Man arrested after tiger shown in a yard of his Houston home

By JUAN A. LOZANO for the Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man free on bond from a murder charge was returned to custody Monday after neighbors found a pet tiger wandering around a Houston neighborhood.

Houston police tweeted Monday night that Victor Hugo Cuevas, 26, was back in custody charged with felony evading arrest.

Police had said they believed the tiger had belonged to Cuevas, but his attorney questioned the accuracy of that belief.

Waller County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wes Manion approximates the size of the tiger, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Houston, that was loose the night before on the 1100 block of Ivy Wall Drive. Manion, who was off-duty at the time, arrived shortly after seeing posts by neighbors. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Video of the Sunday night encounter shows the tiger coming face-to-face with an armed off-duty Waller County sheriff’s deputy, police said. During the encounter, the deputy can be heard yelling at Cuevas to get the animal back inside.

No shots were fired.

When officers arrived, Cuevas put the animal in a white Jeep Cherokee and drove off, Houston police Cmdr. Ron Borza said during a news conference Monday. Cuevas got away after a brief pursuit, he said.

Police said Monday that the tiger’s whereabouts are not known. Borza had said earlier Monday that the main concern was finding Cuevas and finding the tiger “because what I don’t want him to do is harm that tiger. We have plenty of places we can take that tiger and keep it safe and give it a home for the rest of its life.”

Cuevas’ attorney, Michael W. Elliott, said he didn’t think Cuevas was the owner of the tiger or that he was taking care of the animal. The attorney also said it was unclear to him if it was Cuevas seen on videos of the incident.

“People are making a lot of assumptions in this particular case. Maybe he might be the hero out there who caught the tiger that was in the neighborhood,” Elliott said.

Cuevas was charged with murder in a 2017 fatal shooting of a man outside a restaurant in neighboring Fort Bend County and was out on bond. Elliott said Cuevas has maintained the shooting was self-defense and is innocent of the murder charge.

Cuevas also apparently had two monkeys in the home, Borza said.

Having a monkey is not illegal in Houston if the animal is under 30 pounds (13.5 kilograms). Tigers are not allowed within Houston city limits unless the handler, such as a zoo, is licensed to have exotic animals. Texas has no statewide law forbidding private ownership of tigers and other exotic animals.

In 2019, some people who went into an abandoned Houston home to smoke marijuana found a caged tiger. The tiger’s owner was later ordered to pay for the animal’s care at an East Texas wildlife refuge.

“Private citizens and emergency responders should not have to come face to face with a lion or a tiger in a crisis,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, a Washington, D.C.-based animal rights group. “These animals belong in the wild or in reputable sanctuaries or zoos and nowhere else.”

Borza said residents should not have such animals because they can be unpredictable.

“If that tiger was to get out and start doing some damage yesterday, I’m sure one of these citizens would have shot the tiger. We have plenty of neighbors out here with guns, and we don’t want to see that. It’s not the animal’s fault. It’s the breeder’s fault. It’s unacceptable,” he said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

School shooting in Russia kills 9 people; suspect arrested

By DARIA LITVINOVA for the Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — A gunman launched an attack on a school in the Russian city of Kazan that left at least nine people dead Tuesday — including seven youngsters — and sent students running out of the building as smoke poured from one of the windows.

At least 21 others were hospitalized, six in extremely grave condition, authorities said.

Medics and friends help a woman board an ambulance at a school after a shooting in Kazan, Russia, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Russian media report that several people have been killed and four wounded in a school shooting in the city of Kazan. Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported the shooting took place Tuesday morning, citing emergency services. (AP Photo/Roman Kruchinin)

The attacker, identified only as a 19-year-old, was arrested, officials said. They gave no immediate details on a motive.

But Russian media said the gunman was a former student at the school who called himself “a god” on his account on the messaging app Telegram and promised to “kill a large amount of biomass” on the morning of the shooting.

Attacks on schools are rare in Russia, and President Vladimir Putin reacted by ordering the head of the country’s National Guard to revise regulations on the types of weapons allowed for civilian use.

Four boys and three girls, all eighth-graders, died, as well as a teacher and another school employee, said Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan republic, where Kazan is the capital.

Footage released by Russian media showed students dressed in black and white running out of the building. Another video depicted shattered windows, a stream of smoke coming out of one, and the sound of gunfire. Dozens of ambulances lined up at the entrance.

Russian media said while some students were able to escape, others were trapped inside during the ordeal.

“The terrorist has been arrested, 19 years old. A firearm is registered in his name. Other accomplices haven’t been established. An investigation is underway,” Minnikhanov said.

Authorities said the 21 hospitalized included 18 children.

Authorities announced a day of mourning on Wednesday and canceled all classes in Kazan schools. Authorities tightened security at all schools in the city of about 1.2 million people, 430 miles (700 kilometers) east of Moscow.

The deadliest school attack in Russia took place in 2004 in the city of Beslan, when Islamic militants took more 1,000 people hostage for several days. The siege ended in gunfire and explosions, leaving 334 dead, more than half of them children.

In 2018, a teenager killed 20 people at his vocational school before killing himself in Kerch, a city in the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea. In the wake of that attack, Putin ordered authorities to tighten control over gun ownership. But most of the proposed legislative changes were turned down by the parliament or the government, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said on Telegram that the suspect in the Kazan attack received a permit for a shotgun less than two weeks ago and that the school had no security aside from a panic button.

Authorities in Tatarstan ordered checks on all gun owners in the region.

Putin extended condolences to the families of the victims and ordered the government to give them all necessary assistance. Russian officials promised to pay families 1 million rubles (roughly $13,500) each and give 200,000 to 400,000 rubles ($2,700-$5,400) to the wounded.

The Kremlin sent a plane with doctors and medical equipment to Kazan, and the country’s health and education ministers headed to the region.

Hopes fade for minke whale stuck in River Thames near London

By MIKE FULLER for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Hopes faded Monday for a young minke whale who became trapped in the River Thames near London, authorities said.

Lifeboat workers attempt to assist a stranded young Minke whale on the River Thames near Teddington Lock, in London, Monday, May 10, 2021. A Port of London Authority spokesperson said a whale had never been seen this far up the Thames before, 95 miles from its mouth. The whale had been freed on Sunday after it became stuck at Richmond lock but has remained in the Thames.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Rescuers trying to recapture the whale said that by 5 p.m. (1600 GMT; 12 p.m. EDT) its condition had deteriorated rapidly and it would soon be stranded by the dropping tide near Teddington in southwest London.

“Once the whale is beached a veterinary team will be on stand by to euthanize the animal to end its suffering,” the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said in a statement.

The BDMLR said the injured and drained calf would struggle to swim even if it managed to get back into deeper water.

Crews had already worked for hours before being able to free the whale early Monday from a perilous stranding on a lock near Richmond, a few miles downstream of Teddington.

But as the mammal was being taken for further health checks on an inflatable pontoon, it slipped back into the water.

“This animal is very, very lost,” Port of London Authority spokesman Martin Garside said. “It’s like seeing a camel at the North Pole.”

Garside said a whale had never been seen this far up the Thames before, 95 miles (150 kilometers) along the river from its mouth, with the sheer distance making the whale’s route back to safety extremely difficult.

The whale, which measured about four meters (13 feet) long, was first seen lying on the lock’s boat rollers Sunday night. Hundreds of people gathered along the banks of the Thames to watch the rescue operation as night fell. The area is known for wide tidal swings that easily reach over 5.5 meters (18 feet) high.

Port staff were joined by firefighters, coast guard members and marine animal rescue divers.

Minke whales, which are more typically found in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, can grow to a size of nine meters (30 feet).

Meanwhile, in Spain, a marine wildlife group was working to make sure that a gray whale found near Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, far from its usual northern Pacific migration routes, doesn’t get stranded.

Maritime rescuers, firefighters and other authorities worked with conservationists over the weekend to keep a whale nicknamed Wally from venturing into shallow water and ports near Barcelona.

The maritime group said the whale entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar and has been spotted since March in the vicinity of Morocco, Algeria, Italy and France.

In an aerial video released by the group, the whale could be seen very close to a seawall near one of Barcelona’s main beaches.

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Aritz Parra contributed to this report from Madrid.

Capitol rioters make questionable claims about police

By JACQUES BILLEAUD for the Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Joshua Matthew Black said in a YouTube video that he was protecting the officer at the U.S. Capitol who had been pepper sprayed and fallen to the ground as the crowd rushed the building entrance on Jan. 6.

“Let him out, he’s done,” Black claimed to have told rioters.

FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to open a door of the U.S. Capitol as they riot in Washington. At least a dozen of the 400 people charged so far in the Jan. 6 insurrection have made dubious claims about their encounters with officers at the Capitol. The most frequent argument is that they can’t be guilty of anything, because police stood by and welcomed them inside, even though the mob pushed past police barriers, sprayed chemical irritants and smashed windows as chaos enveloped the government complex. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

But federal prosecutors say surveillance footage doesn’t back up Black’s account. They said he acknowledged that he wanted to get the officer out of the way — because the cop was blocking his path inside.

At least a dozen of the 400 people charged so far in the Jan. 6 insurrection have made dubious claims about their encounters with officers at the Capitol. The most frequent argument is that they can’t be guilty of anything, because police stood by and welcomed them inside, even though the mob pushed past police barriers, sprayed chemical irritants and smashed windows as chaos enveloped the government complex.

The January melee to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory was instigated by a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump who have professed their love of law enforcement and derided the mass police overhaul protests that shook the nation last year following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But they quickly turned on police in one violent encounter after another.

“We backed you guys in the summer,” one protester screamed at three officers cornered against a door by dozens of men screaming for them to get out of their way. “When the whole country hated you, we had your back!”

The Capitol Police didn’t plan for a riot. They were badly outnumbered and it took hours for reinforcements to arrive — a massive failure that is now under investigation. Throughout the insurrection, police officers were injured, mocked, ridiculed and threatened. One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died after the riot.

Officers who spoke to The Associated Press said police had to decide on their own how to fight them off. There was no direction or plan and they were told not to fire on the crowd, they said. One cop ran from one side of the building to another, fighting hand-to-hand against rioters. Another decided to respond to any calls of officers in distress and spent three hours helping cops who had been immobilized by bear spray or other chemicals.

Three officers were able to handcuff one rioter. But a crowd swarmed the group and took the arrested man away with the handcuffs still on.

Still, some rioters claim police just gave up and told them that the building was now theirs. And a few — including one accused of trying to pull off an officer’s gas mask in a bid to expose the officer to bear spray — have claimed to be protecting police.

Matthew Martin, an employee for a defense contractor from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has acknowledged being inside the building, claimed police were opening doors for people as they walked into the Capitol.

Dan Cron, Martin’s attorney, said a photo filed in court by authorities shows an officer using his back to hold a door open for people. No police barriers were in place when Martin walked into the Capitol area, nor was there anyone telling people they weren’t allowed in the building, Cron said.

“He thought that was OK,” Cron said, adding that his client was inside the Capitol for less than 10 minutes and didn’t commit any violence. “He doesn’t know what the policies and procedures at the Capitol are,” Cron said. “He had never been there.”

On the surface, images taken of officers who appear to step aside as the mob stormed the building could be beneficial to the rioters’ claims. In the days after Jan. 6, those images fueled rumors that police had stood by on purpose, but they have not been substantiated.

Experts caution against drawing conclusions.

“The context will be very important in claiming officers welcomed in a crowd,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. “They were trying to control a fast-developing, difficult, potentially explosive situation. So I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘The officer didn’t tackle me.’”

Authorities say Michael Quick of Springfield, Missouri, claimed that he didn’t know at the time that he wasn’t allowed in the Capitol when he and his brother climbed in through an open window. He believed police were letting people in, despite seeing officers in riot gear.

Attorney Dee Wampler, who represents Michael and Stephen Quick, said he doesn’t currently have proof for the claim the officers were letting people into the building, but he pointed out that he has thousands of documents from prosecutors still left to review.

“If this case was tried, the evidence would be that there was a fairly large number of officers that were standing around when my clients entered, and they didn’t try to stop the Quicks,” Wampler said, adding that his clients didn’t commit any violence inside the Capitol.

But the argument did not work for Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who sported face paint, a furry hat with horns and carried a spear during the riot.

Chansley’s lawyer said an officer told his client that “the building is yours” and that he was among the third wave of rioters entering the Capitol.

In rejecting a request two months ago to free Chansley from jail, Judge Royce Lamberth said it wasn’t clear who made the comment and concluded Chansley was unable to prove that officers waved him into the building, citing a video that the judge said proves that the Phoenix man was among the first wave of rioters in the building. The judge noted that rioters were crawling in through broken windows when Chansley entered the Capitol through a door.

Chansley’s attorney, Albert Watkins, still insists that his client was in the third wave of rioters in the building and said it shouldn’t shock the public that rioters who were hanging on to Trump’s every word and believed the election was stolen legitimately believed they were allowed in the building. “It’s what’s in their hearts and minds,” Watkins said.

In all, Joshua Black made two claims that he helped officers at the Capitol.

Before encountering the officer he claimed to have protected at a Capitol doorway, Black said, police shot him in the cheek with a plastic projectile as he tried to keep another officer from being “bootstomped” by other rioters while outside the Capitol. But prosecutors say surveillance video doesn’t depict an officer on the ground, nor is Black shown trying to help an officer.

Black’s attorney, Clark Fleckinger II, didn’t return a phone call and email seeking comment.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

Hamas fires rockets at Jerusalem after clashes at mosque

By ILAN BEN ZION and JOSEPH KRAUSS for the Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hamas militants fired a large barrage of rockets into Israel on Monday, including one that set off air raid sirens as far away as Jerusalem, after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, Monday, May. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The early evening attack drastically escalated what already are heightened tensions throughout the region following weeks of confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem that have threatened to become a wider conflict.

Shortly after the sirens sounded, explosions could be heard in Jerusalem. One rocket fell on the western outskirts of the city, lightly damaging a home and causing a brushfire. The Israeli army said there was an initial burst of seven rockets, one was intercepted, and rocket fire was continuing in southern Israel.

Gaza health officials said nine people, including three children, were killed in an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip. The cause of the blast was not immediately known. Meanwhile, Hamas media reported that an Israeli drone strike killed a Palestinian, also in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army said an Israeli civilian in the country’s south suffered mild injuries when a vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile from Gaza.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said the attack was a response to what he called Israeli “crimes and aggression” in Jerusalem. “This is a message the enemy has to understand well,” he said.

He threatened more attacks if Israel again invades the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or carries out planned evictions of Palestinian families from a neighborhood of east Jerusalem that have raised tensions.

Earlier, Israeli police firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians at the iconic compound, which is Islam’s third-holiest site and considered Judaism’s holiest. Tensions at the site have been the trigger for prolonged bouts of violence in the past, including the last Palestinian intifada, or uprising. It was not clear if the current unrest would escalate or dissipate in the coming days.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the iconic golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

More than 305 Palestinians were hurt, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Seven of the injured were in serious condition. Police said 21 officers were hurt, including three who were hospitalized. Israeli paramedics said seven Israeli civilians were also hurt.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by ultranationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem.

Monday’s confrontation was the latest after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional center of their conflict, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

Over the past few days, hundreds of Palestinians and several dozen police officers have been hurt in clashes in and around the Old City, including the sacred compound, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

An AP photographer at the scene said that early Monday morning, protesters had barricaded gates to the walled compound with wooden boards and scrap metal. Sometime after 7. a.m., clashes erupted, with those inside throwing stones at police deployed outside.

Police entered the compound, firing tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and stun grenades, some of which enterd the mosque.

Police said protesters hurled stones at officers and onto an adjoining roadway near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.

The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region and come at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition last week. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government.

Before Monday’s rocket attack on Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Gaza, Palestinian militants had fired several barrages of rockets into southern Israel. Protesters allied with the ruling Hamas militant group have launched dozens of incendiary balloons into Israel, setting off fires across the southern part of the country.

The rare strike on Jerusalem came moments after Hamas had set a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from the mosque compound and Sheikh Jarrah and release Palestinians detained in the latest clashes.

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with Israel since it seized power in Gaza in 2007. The group possesses a vast arsenal of missiles and rockets capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel.

The rocket strike on Jerusalem was a significant escalation and raised the likelihood of a tough Israeli response. Israel’s response thus far has come under growing international criticism.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled closed consultations on the situation Monday.

Late Sunday, the U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. A White House statement said that Sullivan called on Israel to “pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm” and expressed the U.S.’s “serious concerns” about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed back against the criticism Monday, saying Israel is determined to ensure the rights of worship for all and that this “requires from time to time stand up and stand strong as Israeli police and our security forces are doing now.”

The day began with police announcing that Jews would be barred from visiting the holy site on Jerusalem Day, which is marked with a flag-waving parade through the Old City that is widely perceived by Palestinians as a provocative display in the contested city.

Just as the parade was about to begin, police said they were altering the route at the instruction of political leaders. Several thousand people, many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, were participating.

In the 1967 Mideast war in which Israel captured east Jerusalem, it also took the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It later annexed east Jerusalem and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

Rio’s deadly police shootout prompts claims of abuse

By DAVID BILLER and MARCELO SILVA DE SOUSA for the Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A bloody, hourslong gunbattle in a Rio de Janeiro slum echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission successfully eliminated two dozen criminals, while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses.

It was just after sunrise Thursday when dozens of officers from Rio de Janeiro state’s civil police stormed Jacarezinho, a working-class favela in the city’s northern zone. They were targeting drug traffickers from one of Brazil’s most notorious criminal organizations, Comando Vermelho, and the bodies piled up quickly.

Blood covers the floor of a home during a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio’s civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

When the fighting stopped, there were 25 dead — one police officer and 24 people described by the police as “criminals.”

Rio’s moniker of “Marvelous City” can often seem a cruel irony in the favelas, given their stark poverty, violent crime and subjugation to drug traffickers or militias. But even here, Thursday’s clash was a jarring anomaly that analysts declared one of the city’s deadliest police operations ever.

The bloodshed also laid bare Brazil’s perennial divide over whether, as a common local saying goes, “a good criminal is a dead criminal.” Fervent law-and-order sentiment fueled the successful presidential run in 2018 by Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose home is in Rio. He drew support from much of society with his calls to diminish legal constraints on officers’ use of lethal force against criminals.

The administration of Rio state’s Gov. Cláudio Castro, a Bolsonaro ally, said in an emailed statement that it lamented the deaths, but that the operation was “oriented by long and detailed investigative and intelligence work that took months.”

The raid sought to rout gang recruitment of teenagers, police said in an earlier statement, which also cited Comando Vermelho’s “warlike structure of soldiers equipped with rifles, grenades, bulletproof vests.”Police conduct an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Television images showed a police helicopter flying low over the Jacarezinho favela as men with high-powered rifles hopped from roof to roof to evade officers.

Others didn’t escape.

One resident told The Associated Press how a man barged into her humble home around 8 a.m. bleeding from a gunshot wound. He hid in her daughter’s room, but police came rushing in right behind him.

She said that she and her family saw officers shoot the unarmed man.

Hours later, his blood was still pooled on her tile floor and soaked into a blanket decorated with hearts.

About 50 residents of Jacarezinho poured into a narrow street to follow members of the state legislature’s human rights commission who conducted an inspection following the shootouts. They shouted “Justice!” while clapping their hands. Some raised their right fists into the air.Blood covers the floor and a bed inside a home during a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Felipe Curi, a detective in Rio’s civil police, denied there were any executions.

“There were no suspects killed. They were all traffickers or criminals who tried to take the lives of our police officers and there was no other alternative,” he said at a news conference.

Curi said some suspects had sought refuge in residents’ homes, and six of them were arrested. Police also seized 16 pistols, six rifles, a submachine gun, 12 grenades and a shotgun, he said.

Bolsonaro’s son Carlos, a Rio city councilman who is influential on social media, supported police. He expressed condolences to the family of the fallen officer on Twitter, while skipping any mention of the other 24 dead or their families. The president didn’t refer to the incident at all Thursday night in his weekly live broadcast on Facebook.Weapons and drugs seized during a police raid are displayed for the press at city police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Bolsonaro’s political rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said any operation that produces two dozen deaths doesn’t qualify as public security.

“That is the absence of the government that offers education and jobs, the cause of a great deal of violence,” said da Silva, who is widely expected to mount a challenge to Bolsonaro’s reelection bid next year.

The Brazilian divisions of international advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged public prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the operation.

“Even if the victims were suspected of criminal association, which has not been proven, summary executions of this kind are entirely unjustifiable,” said Jurema Werneck, Amnesty’s executive director in Brazil.

The Rio state prosecutors’ office said in a statement to the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that it would investigate accusations of violence, adding that the case required a probe that is independent from police.Residents protest a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Brazil’s Supreme Court issued a ruling last year prohibiting police operations in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic unless “absolutely exceptional.”

The order came after police fatally shot a 14-year-old in a home where there was no indication of any illegal activity. The teen’s death sparked a Brazilian iteration of Black Lives Matter protests held across the city’s metropolitan area for weeks.

The ruling, which remains in force, caused a decline in police operations throughout the middle of last year, as reflected by a plunge in the number of shootouts reported by Crossfire, a non-governmental group that monitors violence, and in official state data on deaths resulting from police intervention. But both indicators have crept back up to around pre-pandemic levels.

The Candido Mendes University’s Public Safety Observatory said Rio police killed an average of more than five people a day during the first quarter of 2021, the most lethal start of a year since the state government began regularly releasing such data more than two decades ago.

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Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo and AP producer Diarlei Rodrigues in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

Sheriff: Girl shoots 3 at Idaho school; teacher disarms her

By REBECCA BOONE for the Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A sixth-grade girl brought a gun to her Idaho middle school, shot and wounded two students and a custodian and then was disarmed by a teacher Thursday, authorities said.

The three victims were shot in their limbs and expected to survive, officials said at a news conference. Jefferson County Sheriff Steve Anderson says the girl pulled a handgun from her backpack and fired multiple rounds inside and outside Rigby Middle School in the small city of Rigby, about 95 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Yellowstone National Park.

RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT FIRST NAME TO ADELA – Adela Rodriguez, left, walks with her son, Yandel Rodriguez, 12, at the high school where people were evacuated after a shooting at the nearby Rigby Middle School earlier Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Rigby, Idaho. Authorities said that two students and a custodian were injured, and a male student has been taken into custody. (AP Photo/Natalie Behring)

A female teacher disarmed the girl and held her until law enforcement arrived and took her into custody, authorities said, without giving other details. Authorities say they’re investigating the motive for the attack and where the girl got the gun.

“We don’t have a lot of details at this time of ‘why’ — that is being investigated,” Anderson said. “We’re following all leads.”

The girl is from the nearby city of Idaho Falls, Anderson said. He didn’t release her name.

Police were called to the school around 9:15 a.m. after students and staffers heard gunfire. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded, and students were evacuated to a nearby high school to be reunited with their parents.

“Me and my classmate were just in class with our teacher — we were doing work — and then all of a sudden, here was a loud noise and then there were two more loud noises. Then there was screaming,” 12-year-old Yandel Rodriguez said. “Our teacher went to check it out, and he found blood.”

Yandel’s mom, Adela Rodriguez, said they were OK but “still a little shaky” from the shooting as they left the campus.

Both of the students who were shot were being held at the hospital, and one of them might need surgery, said Dr. Michael Lemon, trauma medical director at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Still, both students were in fair condition and could be released as early as Friday. One of the students had wounds in two limbs and might have been shot twice, he said.

“It’s an absolute blessing” that they weren’t hurt worse, Lemon said. The adult was treated and released for a bullet wound that went through an extremity, the doctor said.

Schools would be closed districtwide to give students time to be with their families, and counselors would be available starting Friday, said Jefferson School District Superintendent Chad Martin.

“This is the worst nightmare a school district could ever face. We prepare for it,” Martin said, “but you’re never truly prepared.”

Police tape surrounded the school, which has about 1,500 students in sixth through eighth grades, and small evidence markers were placed next to spots of blood on the ground.

“I am praying for the lives and safety of those involved in today’s tragic events,” Gov. Brad Little said in a statement. “Thank you to our law enforcement agencies and school leaders for their efforts in responding to the incident.”

Lucy Long, a sixth-grader at Rigby Middle School, told the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls that her classroom went into lockdown after they heard gunshots, with lights and computers turned off and students lined up against the wall.

Lucy comforted her friends and began recording on her phone, so police would know what happened if the shooter came in. The audio contained mostly whispers, with one sentence audible: “It’s real,” one student said.

Lucy said she saw blood on the hallway floor when police escorted them out of the classroom.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Mark Taylor said decisions about criminal charges wouldn’t be made until the investigation is complete but that they might include three counts of attempted murder.

The attack appears to be Idaho’s second school shooting. In 1999, a student at a high school in Notus fired a shotgun several times. No one was struck by the gunfire, but one student was injured by ricocheting debris from the first shell.

In 1989, a student at Rigby Junior High pulled a gun, threatened a teacher and students, and took a 14-year-old girl hostage, according to a Deseret News report. Police safely rescued the hostage from a nearby church about an hour later and took the teen into custody. No one was shot in that incident.

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Associated Press writers Keith Ridler in Boise and Emily Wilder in Phoenix contributed. Photographer Natalie Behring contributed from Rigby.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Yandel Rodriguez’s first name and his pronouns.

Pressure rises for India lockdown; surge breaks record again

By NEHA MEHROTRA and ASHOK SHARMA for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced growing pressure Friday to impose a strict nationwide lockdown, despite the economic pain it will exact, as a startling surge in coronavirus cases that has pummeled the country’s health system shows no signs of abating.

Workers load oxygen cylinders onto a hand cart to be carried inside the COVID-19 wards at a government run hospital in Jammu, India, Friday, May 7, 2021. With coronavirus cases surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Many medical experts, opposition leaders and even Supreme Court judges are calling for national restrictions, arguing that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to quell the rise in infections.

Indian television stations broadcast images of patients lying on stretchers outside hospitals waiting to be admitted, with hospital beds and critical oxygen in short supply. People infected with COVID-19 in villages are being treated in makeshift outdoor clinics, with IV drips hanging from trees.

As deaths soar, crematoriums and burial grounds have been swamped with bodies, and relatives often wait hours to perform the last rites for their loved ones.

The situation is so dramatic that among those calling for a strict lockdown are merchants who know their businesses will be affected but see no other way out.

“Only if our health is good, will we be able to earn,” said Aruna Ramjee, a florist in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru. “The lockdown will help everyone, and coronavirus spread will also come down.”

The alarming picture has gripped the world’s attention, just as many developed countries are seeing vaccinations drive down infections and are beginning to open up. India’s surge has served as a warning to other countries with fragile health systems — and also has weighed heavily on global efforts to end the pandemic since the country is a major vaccine producer but has been forced to delay exports of shots.

Infections have swelled in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies. On Friday India reported a new daily record of 414,188 confirmed cases and 3,915 additional deaths. The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.

That brings the total to more than 21.4 million COVID-19 infections and over 234,000 deaths. Experts say even those dramatic tolls are undercounts.

Over the past month, nearly a dozen of India’s 28 federal states have announced some restrictions, but they fall short of a nationwide lockdown imposed last year that experts credit with helping to contain the virus for a time. Those measures, which lasted two months, included stay-at-home orders, a ban on international and domestic flights and a suspension of passenger service on the nation’s extensive rail system.

The government provided free wheat, rice and lentils to the poorest for nearly a year and also small cash payments, while Modi also vowed an economic relief package of more than $260 billion. But the lockdown, imposed on four hours’ notice, also stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages, with many dying along the way.

The national restrictions caused the economy to contract by a staggering 23% in the second quarter last year, though a strong recovery was under way before infections skyrocketed recently.

Some who remember last year’s ordeal remain against a full lockdown.

“If I had to choose between dying of the virus and dying of hunger, I would choose the virus,” said Shyam Mishra, a construction worker who was already forced to change jobs and start selling vegetables when a lockdown was imposed on the capital, New Delhi.

Modi has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus in this current surge to poorly equipped state governments and faced accusations of doing too little. His government has countered that it is doing everything it can, amid a “once-in-a-century crisis.”

Amid a shortage of oxygen, the Supreme Court has stepped in. It ordered the federal government to increase the supply of medical oxygen to New Delhi after 12 COVID-19 patients died last week after a hospital ran out of supplies for 80 minutes.

Three justices called on the government this week to impose a lockdown, including a ban on mass gatherings, in the “interest of public welfare.”

Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said he believes that a total lockdown is needed like last year, especially in areas where more than 10% of those tested have contracted COVID-19.

Rahul Gandhi, an opposition Congress party leader, in a letter to Modi on Friday, also demanded a total lockdown and government support to feed the poor, warning “the human cost will result in many more tragic consequences for our people.”

As the world watches India with alarm, some outside of its borders have joined the calls. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed for two to four weeks.

“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian news channel CNN News18 on Thursday.

Still, Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.

In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.

Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that the intensity of the pandemic was different in each state, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.

According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated, “like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments.”

Iraq pushes vaccine rollout amid widespread apathy, distrust

By ABDULRAHMAN ZEYAD for the Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s vaccine roll-out had been faltering for weeks. Apathy, fear and rumors kept many from getting vaccinated despite a serious surge in coronavirus infections and calls by the government for people to register for shots.

A follower of populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holds a picture of him while receiving a dose of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, May 4, 2021. Iraq’s vaccine rollout had been faltering for weeks. Apathy, fear and rumors kept many from getting vaccinated despite a serious surge in coronavirus infections and calls by the government for people to register for shots. It took al-Sadr’s public endorsement of vaccinations — and images of him getting the shot — to turn things around. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

It took a populist Shiite cleric’s public endorsement of vaccinations — and images of him getting the shot last week — to turn things around.

Hundreds of followers of Muqtada al-Sadr are now heading to clinics to follow his example, underscoring the power of sectarian loyalties in Iraq and deep mistrust of the state.

“I was against the idea of being vaccinated. I was afraid, I didn’t believe in it,” said Manhil Alshabli, a 30-year-old Iraqi from the holy city of Najaf. “But all this has changed now.”

“Seeing him getting the vaccine has motivated me,” said Alshabli, speaking by phone from Najaf where he and many other al-Sadr loyalists got their shots, Alshabli compared it to soldiers being energized when they see their leader on the front line.

Iraq has grappled with a severe second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. New case numbers spiked to over 8,000 per day last month, the highest they have ever been. The surge was driven largely by public apathy toward the virus. Many routinely flout virus-related restrictions, refusing to wear face masks and continuing to hold large public gatherings.

Daily rates have decreased in the last week, with 5,068 new cases reported on Monday.

Iraq’s Health Ministry has repeatedly tried to reassure Iraqis that the vaccines are not harmful, but this has not convinced many who harbor long-standing distrust of the health care system.

Iraq’s centralized system, largely unchanged since the 1970s, has been ground down by decades of war, sanctions and prolonged unrest since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Successive governments have invested little in the sector.

Many avoid going to public hospitals altogether. Last month, a massive blaze tore through the coronavirus ward in a Baghdad hospital, killing more than 80 people and injuring dozens. Iraq’s Health Minister Hasan al-Tamimi was suspended for alleged negligence, and resigned Tuesday over the incident.

So far, fewer than than 380,000 people have been fully vaccinated in the country of 40 million.

Last week, as sluggish vaccination efforts continued, pictures of the black-turbaned al-Sadr, wearing a black mask and getting jabbed in the arm, began circulating on social media.

Shortly after, his followers launched a vaccination campaign, calling on supporters to join them and posting photos of themselves carrying his posters while seated at medical centers receiving the vaccine.

The Health Ministry has cashed in on the campaign, publishing on its Facebook page the photo of al-Sadr getting the shot, saying his vaccination was meant to encourage all citizens to do the same.

Faris Al-Lami, assistant professor of community medicine at the University of Baghdad, said the government is widely viewed as corrupt and that its actions since the start of the pandemic only deepened the public’s mistrust.

He cited certain early practices, such as using security forces to take patients from their homes as if they were criminals, and holding up the burials of those who died of the virus for several weeks.

Al-Lami also pointed to what he said are current problematic policies. For example, he said high-risk patients, such as those with chronic or immunodeficiency diseases, have to wait inside hospitals to get their shots, putting them at high risk of infection. Meanwhile, people with personal connections can get them easily.

He said it’s a positive development when the vaccination of a political or religious figure encourages people to get their shots. “But the ideology that is based upon blindly following anyone’s decision is a disaster in itself,” he said.

Iraq received 336,000 new doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in late March and Iraqis above the age of 18 are qualified to get the jab. Last month, the first shipment of Pfizer doses arrived in the country, with 49,000 shots.

“All the vaccines that arrived in Iraq are safe and effective … but until this moment, there are some citizens who are afraid of taking the vaccine as a result of malicious rumors,” said Ruba Hassan, a Health Ministry official.

The Health Ministry has introduced measures to push Iraqis to get the shots. They include travel restrictions for those unable to produce a vaccination card and dismissals of employees at shops, malls and restaurants. While the measures have led more people to seek out vaccinations, they have also confused and angered a still largely reticent public.

Restaurant owners said they were blindsided by the measures, uncertain if it meant they would face closure if they refused them.

“There is no clear law to follow,” said Rami Amir, 30, who owns a fast food restaurant in Baghdad. “I don’t want all my staff to be vaccinated because they might have severe side effects or complications,” he said, echoing widespread skepticism.

Omer Mohammed, another restaurant owner, said applicants for a new job at his eatery dropped out when he said vaccination cards were a necessary prerequisite.

Medical professionals were prioritized to receive the vaccine and were able to pre-register in January when Iraq received its first shipment of 50,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

When recent medical school graduate Mohammed al-Sudani, 24, went to get vaccinated this month he said the process was “bittersweet.” He showed up with no previous registration for the AstraZeneca vaccine. He didn’t need it. There was barely anyone there.

The next week he brought two of his aunts to the same center. There were only two other people in the waiting room.

“The nurse came in and asked them to call their relatives and friends to come to raise the number to at least 10 people because the jabs inside the vaccine kits were only valid for 6 hours,” he said.

It was a different scene in hospitals that carry Pfizer shots. Tabark Rashad, 27, headed to Baghdad’s al-Kindi hospital last week. The waiting room was crowded with dozens of people, sparking infection concerns.

“I went to protect myself against COVID-19, not get it in this room,” she said. “It was chaos.”

Nature at its craziest: Trillions of cicadas about to emerge

By SETH BORENSTEIN for the Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — Sifting through a shovel load of dirt in a suburban backyard, Michael Raupp and Paula Shrewsbury find their quarry: a cicada nymph.

A cicada nymph moves in the grass, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Frederick, Md. Within days, a couple weeks at most, the cicadas of Brood X (the X is the Roman numeral for 10) will emerge after 17 years underground. There are many broods of periodic cicadas that appear on rigid schedules in different years, but this is one of the largest and most noticeable. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

And then another. And another. And four more.

In maybe a third of a square foot of dirt, the University of Maryland entomologists find at least seven cicadas — a rate just shy of a million per acre. A nearby yard yielded a rate closer to 1.5 million.

And there’s much more afoot. Trillions of the red-eyed black bugs are coming, scientists say.

Within days, a couple weeks at most, the cicadas of Brood X (the X is the Roman numeral for 10) will emerge after 17 years underground. There are many broods of periodic cicadas that appear on rigid schedules in different years, but this is one of the largest and most noticeable. They’ll be in 15 states from Indiana to Georgia to New York; they’re coming out now in mass numbers in Tennessee and North Carolina.

When the entire brood emerges, backyards can look like undulating waves, and the bug chorus is lawnmower loud.

The cicadas will mostly come out at dusk to try to avoid everything that wants to eat them, squiggling out of holes in the ground. They’ll try to climb up trees or anything vertical, including Raupp and Shrewsbury. Once off the ground, they shed their skins and try to survive that vulnerable stage before they become dinner to a host of critters including ants, birds, dogs, cats and Raupp.

It’s one of nature’s weirdest events, featuring sex, a race against death, evolution and what can sound like a bad science fiction movie soundtrack.

Some people may be repulsed. Psychiatrists are calling entomologists worrying about their patients, Shrewsbury said. But scientists say the arrival of Brood X is a sign that despite pollution, climate change and dramatic biodiversity loss, something is still right with nature. And it’s quite a show.

Raupp presents the narrative of cicada’s lifespan with all the verve of a Hollywood blockbuster:

“You’ve got a creature that spends 17 years in a COVID-like existence, isolated underground sucking on plant sap, right? In the 17th year these teenagers are going to come out of the earth by the billions if not trillions. They’re going to try to best everything on the planet that wants to eat them during this critical period of the nighttime when they’re just trying to grow up, they’re just trying to be adults, shed that skin, get their wings, go up into the treetops, escape their predators,” he says.

“Once in the treetops, hey, it’s all going to be about romance. It’s only the males that sing. It’s going to be a big boy band up there as the males try to woo those females, try to convince that special someone that she should be the mother of his nymphs. He’s going to perform, sing songs. If she likes it, she’s going to click her wings. They’re going to have some wild sex in the treetop.

“Then she’s going to move out to the small branches, lay their eggs. Then it’s all going to be over in a matter of weeks. They’re going to tumble down. They’re going to basically fertilize the very plants from which they were spawned. Six weeks later the tiny nymphs are going to tumble 80 feet from the treetops, bounce twice, burrow down into the soil, go back underground for another 17 years.”

“This,” Raupp says, “is one of the craziest life cycles of any creature on the planet.”

America is the only place in the world that has periodic cicadas that stay underground for either 13 or 17 years, says entomologist John Cooley of the University of Connecticut.

The bugs only emerge in large numbers when the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. That’s happening earlier in the calendar in recent years because of climate change, says entomologist Gene Kritsky. Before 1950 they used to emerge at the end of May; now they’re coming out weeks earlier.

Though there have been some early bugs In Maryland and Ohio, soil temperatures have been in the low 60s. So Raupp and other scientists believe the big emergence is days away — a week or two, max.

Cicadas who come out early don’t survive. They’re quickly eaten by predators. Cicadas evolved a key survival technique: overwhelming numbers. There’s just too many of them to all get eaten when they all emerge at once, so some will survive and reproduce, Raupp says.

This is not an invasion. The cicadas have been here the entire time, quietly feeding off tree roots underground, not asleep, just moving slowly waiting for their body clocks tell them it is time to come out and breed. They’ve been in America for millions of years, far longer than people.

When they emerge, it gets noisy — 105 decibels noisy, like “a singles bar gone horribly, horribly wrong,” Cooley says. There are three distinct cicada species and each has its own mating song.

They aren’t locusts and the only plants they damage are young trees, which can be netted. The year after a big batch of cicadas, trees actually do better because dead bugs serve as fertilizer, Kritsky says.

People tend to be scared of the wrong insects, says University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. The mosquito kills more people than any other animals because of malaria and other diseases. Yet some people really dread the cicada emergence, she said.

“I think it’s the fact that they’re an inconvenience. Also, when they die in mass numbers they smell bad,” Berenbaum says. “They really disrupt our sense of order.”

But others are fond of cicadas — and even munch on them, using recipes like those in a University of Maryland cookbook. And for scientists like Cooley, there is a real beauty in their life cycle.

“This is a feel-good story, folks. It really is and it’s in a year we need more,” he says. “When they come out, it’s a great sign that forests are in good shape. All is as it is supposed to be.”

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears

Report: Sheriff’s employee stole $40K in sales tax payments

From the Associated Press

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana sheriff’s office employee was fired over allegations they stole $40,000 in sales tax collections following an investigation by an independent auditor, according to a report by state officials.

A St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office staff member, who worked in the sales tax collection office, was fired in February after an internal investigation revealed the funds were missing, according to the report released Monday by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.

The auditor’s report alleged that the employee, who was not immediately identified, altered receipts and misappropriated sales taxes paid in cash.

The sheriff’s office no longer accepts cash payments for such taxes, the report said.

The report did not say whether the employee faces criminal charges. The investigation remains ongoing, officials said.

Virus cases plunge and LA, San Francisco come back to life

By BRIAN MELLEY and JANIE HAR for the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) —

When Angeleno Wine Co. reopened its tasting room, co-owner Amy Luftig Viste teared up seeing old friends reunited for the first time since the pandemic had shuttered so many businesses it left major cities looking like ghost towns.

FILE – In this Jan. 27, 2021, file photo, motorists line up for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of the state’s 40 million people and has endured a disproportionate number of deaths, didn’t record a single COVID-19 death on Sunday, May 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Even with limited capacity, animated conversations flowed from the tables set among barrels of aging wine and echoed off the brick walls of the winery hidden in an industrial section on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles.

“It felt like the winery had come alive again,” Luftig Viste said Sunday, the day after it reopened after being closed all but two weeks over the past 13 months.

The din in the small space is destined to get louder when capacity is allowed to double to 50% as Los Angeles and San Francisco lead the way toward a broader reopening of California businesses.

The state’s signature cities are likely Tuesday to be the only major urban areas in the state to meet virus case thresholds for the least-restrictive tier, allowing indoor bars to reopen, larger crowds to cheer on Major League Baseball’s Dodgers and Giants, and expanded capacity at restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, gyms and other establishments.

It’s a remarkable turnaround considering California was the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the U.S. just a few months ago.

The two cities have weathered the pandemic differently but are emerging in the same place after a statewide shutdown in March 2020 emptied streets, shuttered shops and restaurants, and darkened office buildings.

While San Francisco largely beat the coronavirus by avoiding it, Los Angeles was nearly beaten by it during the winter surge. At its worst point, more than 500 people a day were dying in California and hospitals in the LA area could barely treat the overwhelming influx of patients.

San Francisco reached the least-restrictive yellow tier for a brief period in October, the only urban area to do so, before an alarming surge in cases forced a retreat. LA never emerged from the most restrictive tier until March.

Now, California has the lowest case rate in the country. Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million people and has endured a disproportionate number of the state’s 60,000 deaths, didn’t record a single COVID-19 death Sunday or Monday.

As spring warms up, freeways are becoming congested, workers are returning to offices, and people are heading to restaurants and breweries.

On Sunday in the Arts District in downtown LA, drivers circled the block looking for parking spaces. Diners filled the sidewalk tables of Wurstküche, eating sausages and drinking Belgian and German beer. A line of people waiting for a table at Angel City Brewery extended down the street.

Chris Sammons said he felt a civic obligation to get out and support businesses.ADVERTISEMENT

“It feels like almost a duty to be engaged with the city,” Sammons said. “We have to bring LA back to life.”

It was the first time out for his friend, Stephen Tyler, who said he was excited after hunkering down for so long and getting vaccinated.

“It’s just good to be out in the city again, be around people,” Tyler said. “Even this, I don’t care about standing in line. It’s all kind of new again.”

In San Francisco, business has picked up at Mixt, a popular lunch spot for salad lovers in the Financial District. But it’s not at pre-pandemic levels when lines spilled outdoors, said Leslie Silverglide, co-founder and CEO of the the chain. She plans to open two more stores downtown in coming weeks.

“It seems as if people are coming back,” she said. “They’re excited to be having lunch with colleagues again.”

Fear of catching the virus prompted a huge drop in mass transit ridership. Jason Alderman said he felt like a kid on his first day of school when he took a commuter train into San Francisco. He works for online payment start-up Fast, which reopened its headquarters as soon as San Francisco allowed in late March.

“Instead of feeling like a hollowed-out ghost town that people had quickly abandoned, it felt like there were green shoots of life,” he said. “I felt a twinge of the energy that used to be there.”

When the lockdown order came in March 2020, an estimated 137,500 workers for San Francisco companies that include Google, Facebook and Uber, seemingly vanished overnight.

Moving vans carted off households for roomier suburban homes and younger people simply packed up their cars and left since they could work from anywhere. Residential rents plummeted, but now are climbing.

The office vacancy rate in San Francisco is 18% compared to 10% a year earlier, said John Chang, senior vice president at Marcus & Millichap, a commercial real estate financing and advisory company. In Los Angeles, vacancies are at 17.5% from 13.5% a year earlier.

More telling, perhaps, is that only 14% of key cards are being used to enter offices in San Francisco, compared to 24% in LA. At the other end of the spectrum is Dallas, where data showed 41% of cards being used, reflecting the different approaches to the virus in the two states.

Chang said workers suddenly abandoned San Francisco when the original shutdown order took effect. He expects the return will be more gradual.

Lisa Elder, a paralegal who has worked in her office since July, said that even with some restaurants and cafes recently re-opening the area is a shadow of its former self.

“Before COVID this place was packed, there would be tons of people here in the alleyway eating and now it’s like, quiet. It’s crazy,” she said.

At Angeleno Wine, Luftig Viste said most of her customers were vaccinated and all were excited to be out again.

“It’s just such an honor to be the place that people come to break the seal as we start to come out again,” she said.

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Har reported from San Francisco. Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report from San Francisco.

Storms spawn twisters in Mississippi, kill 2 in Georgia

By ROGELIO V. SOLIS for the Associated Press

YAZOO CITY, Miss. (AP) — Much of the South is again at risk of severe weather Tuesday, forecasters say, after tornadoes struck parts of the region Sunday night and Monday, causing heavy damage in some parts of Mississippi.

Vickie Savell looks at the remains of her new mobile home early Monday, May 3, 2021, in Yazoo County, Miss. Multiple tornadoes were reported across Mississippi on Sunday, causing some damage but no immediate word of injuries. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Large parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as corners of Arkansas and Georgia are at enhanced risk for the worst weather, according to the national Storm Prediction Center. That zone is home to more than 11 million people and includes the cities of Nashville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jackson, Mississippi, forecasters said.

“We’ll see all three threats as far as hail, wind and tornadoes on Tuesday,” said Mike Edmonston, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Mississippi.

They could include wind gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph) and hail to the size of golf balls, forecasters said, noting that “tornadoes are likely Tuesday into Tuesday evening” in parts of Mississippi.

The risk follows heavy weather that moved across the South on Sunday and Monday, damaging homes and uprooting trees from Mississippi to West Virginia.

A tornado spotted in Atlanta forced thousands to seek shelter, and one man was killed when a falling tree brought power lines onto his vehicle. The motorist was pronounced dead after fire crews cut him from the vehicle in Douglasville, Georgia, west of Atlanta, Douglas County spokesman Rick Martin told reporters. And in middle Georgia, 55-year-old Carla Harris was killed after a tree fell onto her Bonaire home, Houston County emergency officials said.

The weather first turned rough in Mississippi on Sunday, where just south of Yazoo City, Vickie Savell was left with only scraps of the brand-new mobile home where she and her husband had moved in just eight days ago. It had been lifted off its foundation and moved about 25 feet (8 meters). It was completely destroyed.

“Oh my God, my first new house in 40 years and it’s gone,” she said Monday, amid tree tops strewn about the neighborhood and the roar of chainsaws as people worked to clear roads.

Savell had been away from home, attending church, but her husband Nathan had been driving home and hunkered down in the front of his truck as the home nearby was destroyed. From there, he watched his new home blow past him, he said.

Nearby, Garry McGinty recalled being at home listening to birds chirping — then dead silence. He looked outside and saw a dark, ominous cloud and took shelter in a hallway, he said. He survived, but trees slammed into his carport, two vehicles and the side of his house.

The storms hit the northeast Mississippi city of Tupelo late Sunday, damaging homes and businesses.

There were multiple reports of damage to homes on Elvis Presley Drive, just down the street from the home where the famed singer was born. Presley was born in a two-room house in the Tupelo neighborhood but there was no indication that the historic home sustained damage. It’s now a museum.

Just down the street, a tornado tore the roof off the home of Terrille and Chaquilla Pulliam, they told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. About 10 family members took shelter inside the house, and “we got everybody inside in time,” Terrille Pulliam said.

Calhoun County Sheriff Greg Pollan said Calhoun City also “was hit hard.”

“Light poles have been snapped off. Trees in a few homes. Trees on vehicles. Damage to several businesses. Fortunately we have had no reports at this time of injuries,” Pollan posted on Facebook.

“I don’t even recognize my neighborhood anymore,” Calhoun City resident Martha Edmond told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal after a tree poked a hole in her roof, causing heavy water damage. Two locations of a metal fabrication company were heavily damaged.

In Mississippi, forecasters confirmed 12 tornadoes Sunday evening and night, including the Yazoo City twister, which stretched for 30 miles (48 kilometers), and another tornado that moved through suburbs of Byram and Terry south of Jackson that produced a damage track 1,000 yards (910 meters) wide.

In South Carolina, at least one tornado was reported Monday afternoon in Abbeville County. The tornado appeared to be on the ground for several miles, according to warnings from the National Weather Service. No injuries were immediately reported. In Greenwood, downed trees and power lines were reported, while a vehicle was blown over and a storage unit building was heavily damaged. Multiple locations reported golf ball-sized hail.

In the southern Kentucky town of Tompkinsville, a Monday morning storm later confirmed as a tornado damaged several homes and knocked down trees and power lines, Fire Chief Kevin Jones said. No injuries were reported, he said.

In West Virginia, Jefferson County communications supervisor James Hayden said one person was injured when a possible tornado touched down at a lumber company Monday evening. The injury was minor, and the person was treated at the scene, he said. An exterior lumber shed collapsed, Hayden said.

National Weather Service surveyors confirmed one tornado west of Atlanta near where the motorist died. The twister was determined to have peak winds of 90 mph (145 kph) with a path that ran 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers). At least 10 homes had trees on them.

The same thunderstorm sent thousands of people to shelter in more central parts of Atlanta and may have produced at least one more tornado southwest of downtown. Possible tornado damage was also reported in the region around Athens.

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Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Becky Yonker in Simpsonville, Kentucky; and Julie Walker in New York City contributed to this report.

Mexico City metro overpass collapses onto road; 20 dead

By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO for the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — An elevated section of the Mexico City metro collapsed and sent a subway car plunging toward a busy boulevard late Monday, killing at least 20 people and injuring about 70, city officials said.

Mexico City’s subway cars lay at an angle after a section of Line 12 of the subway collapsed in Mexico City, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. The section passing over a road in southern Mexico City collapsed Monday night, dropping a subway train, trapping cars and causing at least 50 injuries, authorities said. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

A crane was working to hold up one subway car left dangling on the collapsed section so that emergency workers could enter to check the car to see if anyone was still trapped. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said 49 of the injured were hospitalized, and that seven were in serious condition and undergoing surgery.

Sheinbaum said a motorist had been pulled alive from a car that was trapped on the roadway below. Dozens of rescuers continued searching through wreckage from the collapsed, preformed concrete structure.

“There are unfortunately children among the dead,” Sheinbaum said, without specifying how many. ,

The overpass was about 5 meters (16 feet) above the road in the southside borough of Tlahuac, but the train ran above a concrete median strip, which apparently lessened the casualties among motorists on the roadway below.

“A support beam gave way,” Sheinbaum said, adding that the beam collapsed just as the train passed over it.

Rescue efforts were briefly interrupted at midnight because the partially dangling train was “very weak.”

“We don’t know if they are alive,” Sheinbaum said of the people possibly trapped inside the subway car.

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters cordoned off the scene as desperate friends and relatives of people believed to be on the trains gathered outside the security perimeter.

Oscar López, 26, was searching for his friend, Adriana Salas, 26. Six months pregnant, she was riding the subway home from her work as a dentist when her phone stopped answering around the time the accident occurred.

“We lost contact with her, at 10:50 p.m., there was literally no more contact,” López said. With little information and a still serious coronavirus situation in Mexico City, López said “they are not telling us anything, and people are just crowding together.”

The collapse occurred on the newest of the Mexico City subway’s lines, Line 12, which stretches far into the city’s southside. Like many of the city’s dozen subway lines, it runs underground through more central areas of the city of 9 million, but then runs on elevated, pre-formed concrete structures on the city’s outskirts.

The collapse could represent a major blow for Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who was Mexico City’s mayor from 2006 to 2012, when Line 12 was built. Allegations about poor design and construction on the subway line emerged soon after Ebrard left office as mayor. The line had to be partly closed in 2013 so tracks could be repaired.

Ebrard wrote on Twitter: “What happened today on the Metro is a terrible tragedy.”

“Of course, the causes should be investigated and those responsible should be identified,” he wrote. “I repeat that I am entirely at the disposition of authorities to contribute in whatever way is necessary.”

It was not clear whether a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in 2017 could have affected the subway line.

The Mexico City Metro, one of the largest and busiest in the world, has had at least two serious accidents since its inauguration half a century ago.

In March of last year, a collision between two trains at the Tacubaya station left one passenger dead and injured 41 people. In 2015, a train that did not stop on time crashed into another at the Oceania station, injuring 12 people.

BioNTech boss: Europe will reach herd immunity this summer

By FRANK JORDANS for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Europe can achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus within three to four months, the head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. partner Pfizer, said Wednesday.

File – In this Thursday, March 18, 2021 file photo, Ugur Sahin, co-founder of the Mainz-based coronavirus vaccine developer BioNTech, listens during an Axel Springer Award ceremony. Europe can achieve ‘herd immunity’ against the coronavirus within the next four months, the head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. partner Pfizer, said Wednesday. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP, Pool, file)

While the exact threshold required to reach that critical level of immunization remains a matter of debate, experts say a level above 70% would significantly disrupt transmission of the coronavirus within a population.

“Europe will reach herd immunity in July, latest by August,” Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s chief executive, told reporters.

He cautioned that this herd immunity initially wouldn’t include children, as the vaccine has so far only been approved for people over 16. A small number of children who fall ill with COVID-19 suffer serious illness or long-term effects.

BioNTech’s vaccine makes up a large share of the doses administered in North America, where it is more commonly known as the Pfizer shot, and Europe, which has been seen vaccination rates rise after a slugging start.

Sahin said data from people who have received the vaccine show that the immune response gets weaker over time, and a third shot will likely be required.

Studies show the efficacy of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine declines from 95% to about 91% after six months, he said.

“Accordingly, we need a third shot to get the vaccine protection back up to almost 100% again” Sahin said.

Vaccine recipients currently receive a second dose three weeks after their first shot, although some countries have longer intervals. Sahin suggested the third should be administered nine to 12 months after the first shot.

“And then I expect it will probably be necessary to get another booster every year or perhaps every 18 months,” he said.

Concerns have been raised that existing vaccines might be less effective against new variants of the virus now emerging in different parts of the world.

Sahin said BioNTech has tested its vaccine against more than 30 variants, including the now-dominant one first detected in Britain, and found the shot triggers a good immune response against almost all of them in the lab. In cases where the immune response was weaker, it remained sufficient, he said, without providing exact figures.

Asked about the new variant first detected in India, Sahin said the vaccine’s effectiveness against it was still being investigated.

“But the Indian variant has mutations that we have previously investigated and against which our vaccine also works, so I am confident there, too,” he said.

The Mainz-based company’s work developing a vaccine based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, benefited from its earlier research into pharmaceuticals to treat cancer, as tumors often try to adapt to evade the immune system, Sahin said.

“The way our vaccine works is that it has two points of attack,” he explained. Along with stimulating the production of antibodies, it prompts the body’s so-called T-cells to attack the virus, he said.

“The vaccine is quite cleverly constructed, and the bulwark will hold. I’m convinced of that,” Sahin said. “If the bulwark needs to be strengthened again, we’ll do so. I’m not worried.”

The company is investigating reports of heart inflammation cases in people who received the vaccine in Israel, but so far hasn’t seen any data that would indicate a heightened risk, Sahin said. Some 5 million people in Israel have been vaccinated, primarily with the BioNTech/Pfizer shot, giving it one of the highest coverages in the world.

“We take everything we hear very seriously,” Sahin said. “The most important principle in drug development is to do no harm.”

BioNTech expects to receive approval in July for its vaccine to be used in China, where it cooperates with local firm Fosun Pharma, he said.

Meanwhile, BioNTech and Pfizer are working with other manufacturers to ramp up production of the mRNA shot as worldwide demand still far outstrips supply.

“When we started 2021, our goal was to produce 1.3 billion doses, and now we’ve increased that to 3 billion doses,” said Sahin, praising pharmaceutical giants such as Novartis, Sanofi and Baxter for joining in the effort.

His company is in talks to create production facilities in Asia, South America and Africa, and may also issue special licenses to other “really competent” manufacturers to boost global supply of the vaccine, Sahin said.

“We don’t want to have a low-quality vaccine in Africa,” he added, dismissing suggestions that the recipe for it could simply be made freely available.

Countering fierce criticism that the European Union had bungled its vaccine procurement process, Sahin said the 27-nation bloc deserved praise for managing to coordinate the simultaneous delivery of the first batches to all member states at the end of December.

“Europeans can be proud that they found a fair solution,” he said, adding that the bloc also exported large numbers of doses elsewhere.

“It doesn’t help if Europeans are safe and other countries, where the virus is still raging, keep churning out new variants,” he said.

Sahin founded BioNTech in 2008 with his wife, the scientist Ozlem Tureci. Together they decided to pivot from cancer research to developing a coronavirus vaccine in early 2020 and reached out to Pfizer, which had the necessary expertise to conduct large-scale clinical trials.

The 55-year-old, whose family emigrated from Turkey to Germany when he was 4, told members of Germany’s foreign press association VAP that it was “a very nice feeling” to be hearing of more and more people who are able to finally see loved ones again after getting vaccinated with his company’s shot.

Sahin said he expects a “new normal” soon, where “one can move about freely and most people have a very good immune protection” against the virus.

Even so, some people would either not want to get vaccinated or have a weak immune system “and we have to consider these people too,” he said.

US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran

By JON GAMBRELL for the Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday. It was the first such shooting in nearly four years.

FILE – This April 14, 2020, file photo provided by the U.S. Army shows the USS Firebolt in Manama, Bahrain. The Firebolt fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a recent patrol in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Spc. Cody Rich/U.S. Army via AP)

The Navy released black-and-white footage of the encounter Monday night in international waters of the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In it, lights can be seen in the distance and what appears to be a single gunshot can be heard, with a tracer round racing across the top of the water.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

The Navy said the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three fast-attack Guard vessels came within 68 yards (62 meters) of it and the U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff.

“The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices, but the (Guard) vessels continued their close range maneuvers,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Mideast-based 5th Fleet. “The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the (Guard) vessels moved away to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels.”

She called on the Guard to “operate with due regard for the safety of all vessels as required by international law.”

“U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” she said.

The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots in the Persian Gulf in an incident involving Iran was in July 2017, when the USS Thunderbolt, a sister ship to the Firebolt, fired to warn off a Guard vessel. Regulations issued last year give Navy commanders the authority to take “lawful defensive measures” against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 meters (yards) of their warships.

While 100 meters may seem far to someone standing at a distance, it’s incredibly close for large warships that have difficulty in turning quickly, like aircraft carriers. Even smaller vessels can collide with each other at sea, risking the ships.

The incident Monday marked the second time the Navy accused the Guard of operating in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner this month alone after tense encounters between the forces had dropped in recent years.

Footage released Tuesday by the Navy showed a ship commanded by the Guard cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking on April 2.

The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, Rebarich said.

The interaction marked the first “unsafe and unprofessional” incident involving the Iranians since April 15, 2020, Rebarich said. However, Iran had largely stopped such incidents in 2018 and nearly in the entirety of 2019, she said.

In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and or unprofessional” interactions with Iranians forces. It recorded 35 in 2016, and 23 in 2015.

The incidents at sea almost always involve the Revolutionary Guard, which reports only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Typically, they involve Iranian speedboats armed with deck-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers test-firing weapons or shadowing American aircraft carriers passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes.

Some analysts believe the incidents are meant in part to squeeze President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after the 2015 nuclear deal. They include a 2016 incident in which Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.

The incident comes as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over Tehran and Washington returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. It also follows a series of incidents across the Mideast attributed to a shadow war between Iran and Israel, which includes attacks on regional shipping and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

India grieves 200,000 dead with many more probably uncounted

By SHEIKH SAALIQ, KRUTIKA PATHI and ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — Three days after his coronavirus symptoms appeared, Rajendra Karan struggled to breathe. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, his son drove him to a government hospital in Lucknow, the capital of India’s largest state.

FILE – In this April 20, 2021, file photo, a man waits for the cremation of a relative who died of COVID-19, placed near bodies of other victims, in New Delhi, India. India’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 200,000 as a virus surge sweeps the country, rooted in so-called super-spreader events that were allowed to happen in the months following the autumn when the country had seemingly brought the pandemic under control. (AP Photo, File)

But the hospital wouldn’t let him in without a registration slip from the district’s chief medical officer. By the time the son got it, his father had died in the car, just outside the hospital doors.

“My father would have been alive today if the hospital had just admitted him instead of waiting for a piece of paper,” Rohitas Karan said.

Stories of deaths tangled in bureaucracy and breakdowns have become dismally common in India, where deaths on Wednesday officially surged past 200,000. But the true death toll is believed to be far higher.

In India, mortality data was poor even before the pandemic, with most people dying at home and their deaths often going unregistered. The practice is particularly prevalent in rural areas, where the virus is now spreading fast.

This is partly why this nation of nearly 1.4 billion has recorded fewer deaths than Brazil and Mexico, which have smaller populations and fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases.

While determining exact numbers in a pandemic is difficult, experts say an overreliance on official data that didn’t reflect the true extent of infections contributed to authorities being blindsided by a huge surge in recent weeks.

“People who could have been saved are dying now,” said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University. Menon said there has been “serious undercounting” of deaths in many states.

India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But infections began increasing in February, and on Wednesday, 362,757 new confirmed cases, a global record, pushed the country’s total past 17.9 million, second only to the U.S.

Local media have reported discrepancies between official state tallies of the dead and actual numbers of bodies in crematoriums and burial grounds. Many crematoriums have spilled over into parking lots and other empty spaces as blazing funeral pyres light up the night sky.

India’s daily deaths, which have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, also reflect a shattered and underfunded health care system. Hospitals are scrambling for more oxygen, beds, ventilators and ambulances, while families marshal their own resources in the absence of a functioning system.

Jitender Singh Shunty runs an ambulance service in New Delhi transporting COVID-19 victims’ bodies to a temporary crematorium in a parking lot. He said those who die at home are generally unaccounted for in state tallies, while the number of bodies has increased from 10 to nearly 50 daily.

“When I go home, my clothes smell of burnt flesh. I have never seen so many dead bodies in my life,” Shunty said.

Burial grounds are also filling up fast. The capital’s largest Muslim graveyard is running out of space, said Mohammad Shameem, the head gravedigger, noting he was now burying nearly 40 bodies a day.

In southern Telangana state too, doctors and activists are contesting the official death counts.

On April 23, the state said 33 people had died of COVID-19. But between 80 to 100 people died in just two hospitals in the state’s capital, Hyderabad, the day before. It is unclear whether all were due to the virus, but experts say COVID-19 deaths across India aren’t being listed as such.

Instead, many are attributed to underlying conditions despite national guidelines asking states to record all suspected COVID-19 deaths, even if the patient wasn’t tested for the virus.

For instance, New Delhi officially recorded 4,000 COVID-19 deaths by Aug. 31, but this didn’t include suspected deaths, according to data accessed by The Associated Press under a right-to-information request. Fatalities have since more than tripled to over 14,500. Officials didn’t respond to queries on whether suspected deaths are now being included.

In Lucknow, officials said 39 people died of the virus in the city on Tuesday. But Suresh Chandra, who operates its Bhaisakhund electric crematorium, said his team had cremated 58 COVID-19 bodies by Tuesday evening, and 28 more were cremated at a nearby crematorium the same day.

Ajay Dwivedi, a government official in Lucknow, acknowledged more bodies were being cremated but said they included corpses from other districts.

Last year, the Indian government used low death and case counts to declare victory against the coronavirus. In October, a month after cases started to ebb, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was saving more lives than richer countries. In January he boasted at the World Economic Forum that India’s success was incomparable.

At the heart of these statements was dubious data that shaped policy decisions.

Information about where people were getting infected and dying could have helped India better prepare for the current surge, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto who has studied deaths in India.

Accurate data would have allowed experts to map the virus more clearly, identifying hotspots, driving vaccinations and strengthening public health resources, he said.

“You can’t walk out of a pandemic without data,” he said.

But even when reliable data is available, it hasn’t always been heeded. With infections already rising in March, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared India was nearing the “endgame.” When daily cases were in the hundreds of thousands, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and other political parties were holding massive election rallies, drawing thousands of maskless supporters.

The government also allowed a Hindu festival drawing hundreds of thousands to the banks of the Ganges River to go ahead despite warnings from experts that a devastating surge was starting.

Many were already convinced COVID-19 wasn’t very lethal since the death toll seemed low.

India’s health ministry did not respond to queries from AP, and ministers from Modi’s party deflected questions about death counts.

Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana state, told reporters Monday that the dead will never come back and that “there was no point in a debate over the number of deaths.”

The Indian Medical Association in February said 734 doctors had died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Days later, India’s health ministry put the number at 313.

“This is criminal,” said Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum. “The government lied about the deaths of health workers first, and now they are lying about deaths of ordinary citizens.”

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Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, Omer Farooq in Hyderabad and Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Thousands demonstrate in Chad against military transition

By EDOUARD TAKADJI for the Associated Press

N’DJAMENA, Chad (AP) — Thousands protested and two people were killed in Chad Tuesday in demonstrations against the rule of a transitional military council headed by the son of the late President Idriss Deby Itno, who died last week.

People travel during rush hour in N’Djamena, Chad, Monday, April 26, 2021. Chad’s military transitional government said Sunday it will not negotiate with the rebels blamed for killing the country’s president of three decades, raising the specter that the armed fighters might press ahead with their threats to attack the capital. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Those killed in violence surrounding the protests include a man shot dead in Moundou, in southern Chad, and another person who died in the capital, according to local reports.

The opposition coalition called for the demonstrations despite a ban on protests. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, and there were also demonstrations in other parts of the nation.

Demonstrators carried signs demanding that power be handed to civilians. The protesters also ransacked a gas station and burned tires throughout N’Djamena, where smoke covered some neighborhoods.

Authorities also detained several protesters and journalists. Many of the journalists were later released.

France and Congo strongly condemned “the crackdown on protests” in Chad and called for the end to all violence, in a joint statement issued Tuesday.

The presidencies of both countries expressed their support for an “inclusive transition process, open to all Chadian political forces, led by a civilian government” with the aim to organize elections within 18 months.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Congo President Felix Tshisekedi issued the statement following a meeting the two leaders had in Paris on Tuesday.

France and Congo also reaffirmed their “attachment to Chad’s stability and integrity.”

Chad’s military announced April 20 that Deby had been mortally wounded during a visit to the troops north of the capital, who were battling an anti-Deby rebel group. The announcement of Deby’s death came just hours after he had been confirmed the winner of presidential elections held earlier in April.

The military then appointed a council to lead an 18-month transition to new elections, putting Deby’s 37-year-old son Mahamat Idriss Deby in charge of Chad in the first change of power in more than three decades.

The appointment of the younger Deby provoked an immediate outcry from both Chad’s political opposition and the rebel forces blamed for his father’s assassination. Those rebels have threatened to attack the capital, as the military transitional government says it will not negotiate with them.

As the new military transitional leader, Deby gave his first official address Tuesday.

Deby paid tribute to his father, saying his death left the country in “disarray, distress, and indescribable pain,” and that his late father gave his life “to preserve Chad from the threat of terrorist groups” and supporters of war.

Mahamat Deby said that faced with the threat of instability, the defense and security forces had no choice but to form a Transitional Military Council.

He said the council was set up to “face the absolute urgency of having to defend our country against the aggression it is facing, to preserve the gains of peace and stability and to guarantee unity and national cohesion.” He assured that the council had no other objective than to “ensure the continuity of the state, the survival of the nation and to prevent it from sinking into” violence and anarchy.

He called on Chad’s citizens to “silence resentments and misunderstandings, transcend selfish interests and overcome divisions to focus on the essential, the best interests of Chad. No state can prosper in an environment marked by disorder, anarchy, and chaos. No country can advance on the path of progress if hatred is the daily bread of its daughters and sons.”

He also reassured Chad’s allies that the country will maintain its responsibilities in the fight against extremism and respect all of its international commitments.

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AP writers Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

Brussels bracing for illegal festival amid fears of violence

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN for the Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — Brussels prosecutor’s office warned potential partygoers they should stay away from an unauthorized gathering planned this weekend in one of the city’s biggest parks as police briefly detained one of the organizers on Tuesday.

After an April Fools’ party drew thousands of people to Brussels’ Bois de la Cambre and ended in clashes with police last month, a sequel to the the event has been advertised by a group called the Abyss for Saturday in the same park.

FILE – In this Friday, April 2, 2021 file photo police detain a man in the Bois de la Cambre park in Brussels. Brussels prosecutors warned potential party-goers they should stay away from an illegal gathering planned this weekend in one of the city’s biggest park as police briefly detained one of the organizers on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

In a statement Tuesday, prosecutors said the manager in charge of the group’s Facebook page was arrested and questioned as part of an investigation into the party before he got released.

Organizers, who have asked in vain for Belgium’s Interior Ministry to grant them permission to host the event, expressed their “surprise” at the arrest, which came as Belgium continues to struggle with the coronavirus.

The country with 11.5 million inhabitants has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting over 976,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 24,000 virus-related deaths. Earlier this month, the city’s authorities said there was only just one bed left in Brussels’ intensive care units when a fire broke in the working-class neighborhood of Anderlecht, a consequence of the crippling strain on the hospital system.

“I am willing to listen to requests from people who want to organize events, but this is not the time,” Brussels mayor Philippe Close said. “We have to hear what is going on in our hospitals. The situation remains difficult.”

In April, clashes between Belgian police and a large crowd of some 2,000 people left several people injured at the Bois de La Cambre. Violence started after police ordered the crowd to disperse toward the end of the afternoon and revelers threw bottles and other projectiles at police, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

In a bid to avoid a repeat of the incidents, Belgian police have contacted Facebook to find out how to take down from the social network the promotion of Saturday’s party, local media reported. Meanwhile, Brussels prosecutor’s office said that anyone breaching COVID-19 restrictions could be prosecuted.

Amid a growing sense of discontent against coronavirus measures taken by the government, some cafes and restaurant owners in the French-speaking region of Wallonia have also planned to defy restrictions and to reopen their terraces on Saturday, a week before the date set for the reopening.

Pathologist: Black man killed by deputies was shot 5 times

By BEN FINLEY and JONATHAN DREW for the Associated Press

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (AP) — Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man killed by deputies in North Carolina, was shot five times, including in the back of the head, according to an independent autopsy report released Tuesday by his family’s attorneys.

Attorneys for the family of Andrew Brown Jr., Wayne Kendall, left, and Ben Crump hold a news conference Tuesday, April 27, 2021 outside the Pasquotank County Public safety building in Elizabeth City, N.C., to announce results of the autopsy they commissioned. The attorneys say an independent autopsy shows that Brown, a Black man, was shot five times, including in the back of the head. Brown was shot Wednesday by deputies serving drug-related search and arrest warrant. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

The details about Brown’s wounds emerged amid increasing calls for the public release of body camera footage of last week’s shooting. A court hearing on access to the video was scheduled for Wednesday.

The autopsy was performed Sunday by a pathologist hired by Brown’s family. The exam noted four wounds to the right arm and one to the head. The state’s autopsy has not been released yet.

The family’s lawyers also released a copy of the death certificate, which lists the cause of death as a “penetrating gunshot wound of the head.” It describes the death as a homicide.

Brown was shot Wednesday by deputies serving drug-related search and arrest warrants in the North Carolina town of Elizabeth City, about 160 miles northeast of Raleigh.

The autopsy results come a day after Brown’s relatives were shown some body camera footage. Another family lawyer, Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, who viewed a 20-second portion of the video, said Monday that officers opened fire on Brown while he had his hands on the steering wheel of a car. She said she lost count of the numerous gunshots while viewing the footage.

Brown’s son Khalil Ferebee questioned why deputies had to shoot so many times at a man who, he said, posed no threat.

“Yesterday I said he was executed. This autopsy report shows me that was correct,” he said Tuesday at a news conference. “It’s obvious he was trying to get away. It’s obvious. And they’re going to shoot him in the back of the head?”

The pathologist, North Carolina-based Dr. Brent Hall, noted a wound to the back of Brown’s head from an undetermined distance that penetrated his skull and brain. He said there was no exit wound.

“It was a kill shot to the back of the head,” family attorney Ben Crump said.

Two shots to Brown’s right arm penetrated the skin. Two others shots to the arm grazed him. The pathologist could not determine the distance from which they were fired.

The shooting prompted days of protests and calls for justice and transparency.

Wednesday’s court hearing on the video will consider petitions to release the footage, including filings by a media coalition and by a county attorney on behalf of the sheriff. A North Carolina law that took effect in 2016 allows law enforcement agencies to show body camera video privately to a victim’s family but generally requires a court to approve any public release.

It’s not clear how soon a judge could rule, or how quickly the video would be released if the release is approved. In similar cases, it has sometimes taken weeks for the full legal process to play out.

The slow movement has prompted an outcry from protesters, the family’s lawyers and racial justice advocates, who noted that law enforcement agencies in other states have moved faster. In Columbus, Ohio, the day before Brown was shot, body camera footage was released within hours of an officer fatally shooting a 16-year-old Black girl who was swinging a knife at another girl.

Germany to open up virus vaccinations to all adults in June

By FRANK JORDANS for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that Germany will open up COVID-19 vaccinations to all adults in June, based on projections that the country will receive 80 million doses from manufacturers in the second quarter of the year.

People wait at the vaccination center in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Monday, April 26, 2021. Germany’s COVID-19 vaccination program will be discussed at a meeting with Germany’s state Governors and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin today. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Speaking after a meeting with the governors of Germany’s 16 states, Merkel said that depending on the actual number of vaccines delivered, the existing system of prioritizing the most vulnerable would be dropped in June (asterisk)at the latest.”

“This doesn’t mean that everyone will immediately be able to get vaccinated,” she said. “But everyone will be able to try for a vaccine appointment.”

Like in other European Union countries, Germany’s vaccine campaign got off to a slow start in December, with only 10% of the population getting their first shot by the end of March. Due to limited supply, the elderly, people with with pre-existing conditions and people in the medical and care professions were prioritized.

The rollout has picked up speed significantly in recent weeks. Official figures show 23.4 % of the population had received at least one dose of vaccine by Sunday and about 7.2% of Germany’s 83 million inhabitants had received both shots.

After supply problems and concerns over efficacy and rare blood clots involving the AstraZeneca vaccine, Germany has relied heavily on the shots made by local company BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer. About 50 million doses of that vaccine are expected to be delivered in the second quarter, Merkel said.

She and the governors also discussed whether people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should be exempt from restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus, though no decision was made.

The issue of special privileges for vaccinated people has been hotly debated in Germany, as in other countries. Some in Germany have argued it’s unfair on those who haven’t been able to get the shot yet. Others say restrictions on civil liberties are justified while people pose a risk to others.

Merkel cited a recent report from Germany’s disease control agency, which concluded that people pose “no relevant risk” to others 14 days after they’ve received a second dose of vaccine. This would mean that they could be treated like people who test negative for the coronavirus or who have recovered from infection.

She cautioned, however, that at some point Germany would find itself in a “transition phase that also won’t be easy,” when about half the population has been vaccinated and the other half hasn’t. Figures on the weekly infection rate per 100,000 inhabitants, to which many of Germany’s pandemic restrictions are linked, would then effectively be much higher than they appear because they apply to a smaller share of the population, Merkel said.

Germany is considering buying the Russian-made vaccine Sputnik V, she said, but that would depend on when the European Medicines Agency approves the shot for use in the European Union.

“The documentation isn’t yet sufficient for authorization,” Merkel said. “If this authorization is received very soon, then it will of course still make sense to buy doses of Sputnik. If this only happens in several months then we’ll already have enough vaccine.”

SOS messages, panic as virus breaks India’s health system

By SHEIKH SAALIQ for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — Dr. Gautam Singh dreads the daily advent of the ventilator beeps, signaling that oxygen levels are critically low, and hearing his desperately ill patients start gasping for air in the New Delhi emergency ward where he works.

Family members of a person who died due to COVID-19 perform the last rites at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Monday, April 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Like other doctors across India, which on Monday set another record for new coronavirus infections for a fifth day in a row at more than 350,000, the cardiologist has taken to begging and borrowing cylinders of oxygen just to keep patients alive for one more day.

On Sunday evening, when the oxygen supplies of other nearby hospitals were also near empty, the desperate 43-year-old took to social media, posting an impassioned video plea on Twitter.

“Please send oxygen to us,” he said in a choked voice. “My patients are dying.”

SOS messages like the one Singh sent reveal the extent of the panic.

In addition to oxygen running out, intensive care units are operating at full capacity and nearly all ventilators are in use. As the death toll mounts, the night skies in some Indian cities glow from the funeral pyres, as crematories are overwhelmed and bodies are burned in the open air.

On Monday, the country reported 2,812 more deaths, with roughly 117 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour — and experts say even those figures are probably an undercount. The new infections brought India’s total to more than 17.3 million, behind only the United States.

The deepening crisis stands in contrast to the improving picture in wealthier nations like the U.S., Britain and Israel, which have vaccinated relatively large shares of their population and have seen deaths and infections plummet since winter. India has four times the population of the U.S. but on Monday had 11 times as many new infections.

Doctors like Singh are on the front lines, trying to get the supplies they need to keep their patients alive.

Singh received 20 oxygen cylinders on Monday, only enough to enable the hospital to limp through the day until the ventilators start sending out their warning beeps again.https://interactives.ap.org/embeds/peJXS/6/

“I feel helpless because my patients are surviving hour to hour,” Singh said in a telephone interview. “I will beg again and hope someone sends oxygen that will keep my patients alive for just another day.”

As bad as the situation is, experts warn it is likely to get worse.

Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University, said it would be impossible for the country to keep up over the coming days as things stand.

“The situation in India is tragic and likely to get worse for some weeks to months,” he said, adding that a “concerted, global effort to help India at this time of crisis” is desperately needed.

The U.S. said Monday that is working to relieve the suffering in India by supplying oxygen, diagnostic tests, treatments, ventilators and protective gear.

The White House has also said it would make available sources of raw materials urgently needed for India to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” President Joe Biden tweeted on Sunday.

Help and support were also offered from archrival Pakistan, which said it could provide relief including ventilators, oxygen supply kits, digital X-ray machines, protective equipment and related items.

Germany’s Health Ministry said it is urgently working to put together an aid package for India consisting of ventilators, monoclonal antibodies, the drug remdesivir, as well as surgical and N95 protective masks.

But many say the aid is too late — the breakdown a stark failure for a country that boasted of being a model for other developing nations.

Only three months ago, India’s leaders were boisterous, delivering messages that the worst was over.

In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory over the coronavirus, telling a virtual gathering of the World Economic Forum that India’s success couldn’t be compared with that of anywhere else.

A little less than a month later, his Bharatiya Janata Party passed a resolution hailing Modi as a “visionary leader” who had already “defeated” the virus.

By the second week of March, India’s health minister declared that the country was “in the endgame” of the pandemic.

At the same time, the patients arriving at India’s hospitals were far sicker and younger than previously seen, prompting warnings by health experts that India was sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Millions of Hindu devotees celebrated the festival of Holi across the country at the end of March, disregarding social distancing guidelines and masks. Modi and other politicians spearheaded mammoth election rallies where tens of thousands participated without masks. And millions more gathered by the Ganges River for special Hindu prayers as recently as last week.

Now it’s suspected all these events might have accelerated the unprecedented surge India is seeing now.

“Many people across India are paying with their lives for that shameful behavior by political leaders,” Udayakumar said.

In a radio address on Sunday, Modi sought to deflect the criticism over what he called a “storm” of infections that had left the country “shaken.”

“It is true that many people are getting infected with corona,” he said. “But the number of people recovering from corona is equally high.”

India’s government said last week it would expand its vaccination program to make all adults eligible, something long urged by health experts.

But vaccinations take time to show their effect on the numbers of new infections, and there are questions of whether manufacturers will be able to keep up with the demand. The pace of vaccination across the country also appears to be struggling.

Ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands, doing what they say the government should have done a long time ago.

Volunteers, from students to technology professionals, nonprofit organizations and journalists, are circulating information on the availability of hospital beds, critical drugs and oxygen cylinders.

Like Dr. Singh, many have taken to social media, particularly Twitter, to crowdsource lists of plasma donors and oxygen supplies.

The system is imperfect, but some are getting badly needed help.

Rashmi Kumar, a New Delhi homemaker, spent her Sunday scouring Twitter, posting desperate pleas for an oxygen cylinder for her critically ill father. At the same time, she made countless calls to hospitals and government help line numbers, to no avail.

By evening her 63-year-old father was gasping for breath.

“I was prepared for the worst,” Kumar said.

But out of nowhere, a fellow Twitter user reported an available oxygen cylinder some 60 kilometers (37 miles) away. Kumar drove to the person’s house, where a man handed over the cylinder.

“I was helped by a stranger when my own government continues to fail thousands like me,” she said. “Unfortunately, everyone is on their own now.”

Supreme Court to take up right to carry gun for self-defense

By MARK SHERMAN for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal to expand gun rights in the United States in a New York case over the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.

The case marks the court’s first foray into gun rights since Justice Amy Coney Barrett came on board in October, making a 6-3 conservative majority.

FILE – In this June 20, 2019, file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington as a storm rolls in. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal to expand gun rights in the United States in a New York case over the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The justices said Monday they will review a lower-court ruling that upheld New York’s restrictive gun permit law. The court’s decision to take on the case follows mass shootings in recent weeks in IndianaGeorgiaColorado and California and comes amid congressional efforts to tighten gun laws. President Joe Biden also has announced several executive actions to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America.

The case is especially significant during the coronavirus pandemic, said Eric Tirschwell, the legal director of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Gun violence has only worsened during the pandemic, and a ruling that opened the door to weakening our gun laws could make it even harder for cities and states to grapple with this public health crisis,” Tirschwell said.

The court had turned down review of the issue in June, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

New York is among eight states that limit who has the right to carry a weapon in public. The others are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

In the rest of the country, gun owners have little trouble legally carrying their weapons when they go out.

Paul Clement, representing challengers to New York’s permit law, said the court should use the case to settle the issue once and for all. “Thus, the nation is split, with the Second Amendment alive and well in the vast middle of the nation, and those same rights disregarded near the coasts,” Clement wrote on behalf of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and two New York residents.

Calling on the court to reject the appeal, the state said its law promotes public safety and crime reduction and neither bans people from carrying guns nor allows everyone to do so.

Federal courts have largely upheld the permit limits. Last month an 11-judge panel of the federal appeals court in San Francisco rejected a challenge to Hawaii’s permit regulations in an opinion written by a conservative judge, Jay Bybee.

“Our review of more than 700 years of English and American legal history reveals a strong theme: government has the power to regulate arms in the public square,” Bybee wrote in a 7-4 decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The issue of carrying a gun for self-defense has been seen for several years as the next major step for gun rights at the Supreme Court, following decisions in 2008 and 2010 that established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

In June, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, complained that rather than take on the constitutional issue, “the Court simply looks the other way.”

But Barrett has a more expansive view of gun rights than Ginsburg. She wrote a dissent in 2019, when she was a judge on the federal appeals court in Chicago, that argued that a conviction for a nonviolent felony — in this case, mail fraud — shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from owning a gun.

She said that her colleagues in the majority were treating the Second Amendment as a “second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.”

Feds fund mental health crisis teams to stand in for police

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — When police respond to a person gripped by a mental health or drug crisis, the encounter can have tragic results. Now a government insurance program will help communities set up an alternative: mobile teams with mental health practitioners trained in de-escalating such potentially volatile situations.

In this Oct. 2020 photo, Crisis Workers, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Henry Cakebread and Ashley Barnhill-Hubbard with CAHOOTS, a mental health crisis intervention program, discuss their last encounter during their night shift in Eugene, Ore. When police respond to a person gripped by a mental health or drug crisis, the encounter can have tragic results. Now a government health program will help communities set up an alternative: mobile teams of practitioners trained in de-escalating such potentially volatile situations. (William Holderfield via AP)

The effort to reinvent policing after the death of George Floyd in police custody is getting an assist through Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low-income people and the largest payer for mental health treatment. President Joe Biden’s recent coronavirus relief bill calls for an estimated $1 billion over 10 years for states that set up mobile crisis teams, currently locally operated in a handful of places.

Many 911 calls are due to a person experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. Sometimes, like with Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, the consequences are shocking. The 41-year-old Black man died after police placed a spit hood over his head and held him to the pavement for about two minutes on a cold night in 2020 until he stopped breathing. He had run naked from his brother’s house after being released from a hospital following a mental health arrest. A grand jury voted down charges against the officers.

Dispatching teams of emergency medical technicians and behavioral health practitioners would take mental health crisis calls out of the hands of uniformed and armed officers, whose mere arrival may ratchet up tensions. In Eugene, Oregon, such a strategy has been in place more than 30 years, with solid backing from police.

The concept “fits nicely with what we are trying to do around police reform,” Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said. The logic works “like a simple math problem,” he adds.

“If I can rely on a mechanism that matches the right response to the need, it means I don’t have to put my officers in these circumstances,” Skinner explained. “By sending the right resources I can make the assumption that there are going to be fewer times when officers are in situations that can turn violent. It actually de-conflicts, reducing the need for use of force.”

Eugene is a medium-size city about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Portland, known for its educational institutions. The program there is called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, and is run by the White Bird Clinic. CAHOOTS is part of the local 911 emergency response system but operates independently of the police, although there’s coordination. Crisis teams are not sent on calls involving violent situations.

“We don’t look like law enforcement,” White Bird veteran Tim Black said. “We drive a big white cargo van. Our responders wear a T-shirt or a hoodie with a logo. We don’t have handcuffs or pepper spray, and the way we start to interact sends a message that we are not the police and this is going to be a far safer and voluntary interaction.”

CAHOOTS teams handled 24,000 calls in the local area in 2019, and Black said the vast majority would have otherwise fallen to police. Many involve homeless people. The teams work to resolve the situation that prompted the call and to connect the person involved to ongoing help and support.

At least 14 cities around the country are interested in versions of that model, said Simone Brody, executive director of What Works Cities, a New York-based nonprofit that tries to promote change through effective use of data.

“It’s really exciting to see the federal government support this model,” Brody said. “I am hopeful that three years from now we will have multiple models and ideally some data that shows this has actually saved people’s lives.”

About 1,000 people a year are shot dead by police, according to an analysis by the Treatment Advocacy Center, which examined several publicly available estimates. Severe mental illness is a factor in at least 25% of such shootings, it estimated. The center advocates for improved mental health care.

Mobile crisis teams found their way into the COVID-19 relief bill through the efforts of Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who chairs the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicaid.

“Too often law enforcement is asked to respond to situations that they are not trained to handle,” Wyden said. “On the streets in challenging times, too often the result is violence, even fatal violence, particularly for Black Americans.”

Wyden’s legislation includes $15 million in planning grants to help states get going. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program could take a couple of years to fully implement. Wyden said the $1 billion is a “down payment” on what he hopes will become a permanent part of Medicaid.

The idea may be well-timed, said Medicaid expert MaryBeth Musumeci, of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened society’s pervasive mental health and substance abuse problems. At the same time, protests over police shootings of Black people have created an appetite for anything that could break the cycle.

“All of those things coming together are putting increased focus on the need for further developing effective behavioral health treatment models,” Musumeci said.

In Rhode Island, nurse turned malpractice lawyer Laura Harrington is helping coordinate a grassroots campaign to incorporate crisis teams into the state’s 911 system. She said she’s been surprised at the level of interest.

“I don’t want to get into blaming,” Harrington said. “We could blame social services. We could blame people who don’t take their medications. We could blame the police. I want to move forward and solve problems.”

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AP writer Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed.

Japan issues 3rd virus emergency in Tokyo, Osaka area

By MARI YAMAGUCHI for the Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures on Friday amid skepticism it will be enough to curb a rapid coronavirus resurgence just three months ahead of the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 through May 11.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declares a state of emergency for Tokyo and three other prefectures during the government task force meeting for the COVID-19 measures at the prime minister’s office Friday, April 23, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)

The step is largely intended to be “short and intensive” to stop people from traveling and spreading the virus during Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays from late April through the first week of May, Suga said.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble for many people again,” said Suga, who earlier had pledged to do his utmost to prevent a third emergency. But he said he is alarmed by the fast=spreading new variant of the virus in the four prefectures and tougher steps are needed.

Suga said he will ensure enough vaccines are delivered to local municipalities so all of the country’s 36 million senior citizens can receive their second shots by the end of July — a month behind an earlier schedule.

Japan’s third state of emergency since the pandemic began comes only a month after an earlier emergency ended in the Tokyo area. For days, experts and local leaders said ongoing semi-emergency measures have failed and tougher steps are urgently needed.

Past emergency measures, issued a year ago and then in January, were toothless and authorized only non-mandatory requests. The government in February toughened a law on anti-virus measures to allow authorities to issue binding orders for nonessential businesses to shorten their hours or close, in exchange for compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.

The measures this time are to include shutdown requirements for bars, department stores, malls, theme parks, theaters and museums. Restaurants that do not serve alcohol and public transportation services are asked to close early. Schools will stay open, but universities are asked to return to online classes.

Mask-wearing, staying home and other measures for the general public remain non-mandatory requests, and experts worry if they will be followed.

Japan, which has had about half a million cases and 10,000 deaths, has not enforced lockdowns. But people are becoming impatient and less cooperative and have largely ignored the ongoing measures as the infections accelerated.

Osaka, the epicenter of the latest resurgence, has since April 5 been under semi-emergency status, which was expanded to 10 areas including Tokyo, a step promoted by Suga’s government as an alternative to a state of emergency with less economic damage.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, who on Tuesday requested the emergency, said the semi-emergency measures were not working and hospitals were overflowing with patients.

COVID-19 treatment is largely limited to a handful of public-run hospitals, while many small private institutions are not helping out or are unprepared for infectious diseases.

Osaka recorded 1,162 new cases Friday, while Tokyo had 759.

The government has also been slow in rolling out vaccinations, leaving the population largely unprotected before the Olympics begin on July 23.

The May 11 end of the emergency, just ahead of an expected visit by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, triggered speculation that the government is prioritizing the Olympic schedule over people’s health.

Suga said Japan has no choice but to follow the IOC decision to hold the games. “The IOC has the authority to decide and the IOC has already decided to hold the Tokyo Olympics,” Suga said. “We aim to hold the games while taking strong measures to protect people’s lives from the further spread of infections.”

Suga has been reluctant to hurt the already pandemic-damaged economy and faced criticism for being slow to take virus measures.

Japan’s inoculation campaign lags behind many countries, with imported vaccines in short supply while its attempts to develop its own vaccines are still in the early stages. Inoculations started in mid-February but progress has been slow amid shortages of vaccines and healthcare workers.

The rapid increase in patients flooding hospitals has raised concerns of a further staff shortage and delay in vaccinations.

French prosecutors open terror probe in official’s killing

By ANGELA CHARLTON and MICHEL EULER for the Associated Press

RAMBOUILLET, France (AP) — French prosecutors opened a terrorism investigation into the fatal stabbing Friday of a French police official inside a police station near the historic Rambouillet chateau outside Paris. Police shot and killed the attacker at the scene, authorities said.

In this image made from video, police near the scene of a stabbing at a police station in Rambouillet, southwest of Paris, Friday, April 23, 2021. Authorities say a French policewoman has been stabbed to death inside her police station and that fellow officers nearby shot and killed the suspected attacker. The identity and the motive of the assailant were not immediately clear. (Clement Lanot via AP)

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told reporters that his office took over the probe because the attacker had staked out the station, because of statements he made during the attack, and because he targeted a police official.

Ricard did not provide details on the attacker’s identity or motive. French media reports identified him as a 37-year-old French resident with no criminal record or record of radicalization.

A French judicial official said the suspect was born in Tunisia and that witnesses heard him say “Allahu akbar, Arabic for “God is great,” during the attack. The judicial official was not authorized to be publicly named speaking about an ongoing investigation.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex rushed to the scene with other officials and pledged the government’s “determination to fight terrorism in all its forms.” Islamic extremists and others have carried out multiple terror attacks in France recent years, including several targeting police.

The official killed Friday was a 49-year-old administrative employee who worked in the station for the national police service, a national police spokesperson told The Associated Press.

The national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into murder of a person of public authority in relation with a terrorist group.

“Police are symbols of the republic. They are France,” Valerie Pecresse, president of the Paris region, told reporters at the scene, adding: “The face of France” was targeted.

The attack took place southwest of Paris just inside the police station in a quiet residential area of the town of Rambouillet, about 750 meters (yards) from a former royal estate that is sometimes used for international peace negotiations. Police cordons ringed the area after the stabbing.

The attack comes as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is toughening its security policies amid voter concerns about crime and complaints from police that they face increasing danger. The shift comes as France prepares for regional elections in June in which security is a big issue, and for a presidential election next year in which Macron’s main challenger could be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, if he seeks a second term.

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Charlton reported from Paris.

Dutch coronavirus infections rise ahead of lockdown easing

By MIKE CORDER for the Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday defended his decision to ease his country’s lockdown next week even after the Netherlands recorded 9,648 new coronavirus infections— the highest daily increase since January.

The national care authority also said the country’s high numbers of COVID-19 patients mean that more than one-third of Dutch hospitals no longer have the capacity to carry out planned critical care and nearly all hospitals are delaying less urgent medical procedures.

FILE – In this file photo dated Thursday, April 1, 2021, Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte listens to a debate in parliament in The Hague, Netherlands. Rutte announced a significant easing in his country’s months-long coronavirus lockdown Tuesday April 20, 2021, calling it a delicate balancing act as infections remain stubbornly high, and as lockdown fatigue grows.(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

“The COVID number in ICUs is high and on a rising trend,” the National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution said. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units rose by 17 to 839 over the last day.

Still, the nation is preparing to ease its lockdown next week.

Rutte announced Tuesday that the nationwide 10:30 p.m.-4:30 a.m. curfew in force since January will end on April 28, when bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen outdoor terraces — under strict conditions — from noon until 6 p.m.

Shoppers will no longer have to make appointments to visit nonessential stores, although the number of customers per shop will still be tightly limited.

Rutte told a parliamentary debate Thursday that his government is prepared to take an “acceptable risk” by easing restrictions because modelling shows a decline in infections and hospital admissions is likely around the start of May.

“This also has to do with the broader social evaluation and we believe that is a responsible risk,” he said.

Bars and other hospitality venues have been closed since mid-October and have for weeks been pressing to reopen.

In the Parliament debate, opposition Labor Party leader Lilianne Ploumen urged the government to call off the relaxation of rules.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Netherlands rose over the past two weeks from 40.8 new cases per 100,000 people on April 7 to 47.9 new cases per 100,000 people on April 21. The Netherlands has seen over 17,000 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic.

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California cop charged in shooting, but after second death

By JULIET WILLIAMS for the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A sheriff’s deputy in the San Francisco Bay Area has been charged with manslaughter and assault in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Filipino man during a slow-moving car chase more than two years ago.

Last month, the same deputy shot and killed a Black man.

The charges Wednesday came a day after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death last May helped spark a national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.

The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office said it charged Deputy Andrew Hall with felony voluntary manslaughter and felony assault with a semi-automatic firearm in the 2018 killing of 33-year-old Laudemar Arboleda, who was shot nine times.

“Officer Hall used unreasonable and unnecessary force when he responded to the in-progress traffic pursuit involving Laudemer Arboleda, endangering not only Mr. Arboleda’s life but the lives of his fellow officers and citizens in the immediate area,” District Attorney Diana Becton said in a news release.

Deputies slowly pursued Arboleda through the city of Danville after someone reported a suspicious person. Sheriff’s department video shows Hall stopping his patrol car, getting out and running toward the sedan driven by Arboleda. Hall opened fire and kept shooting as Arboleda’s car passed by, striking him nine times.

Hall testified at an inquest that he was afraid Arboleda would run him over.

Hall’s attorney, Harry Stern, said prosecutors previously deemed the deputy’s use of force in the 2018 case justified, “given the fact that he was defending himself from a lethal threat. The timing of their sudden reversal in deciding to file charges seems suspect and overtly political.”

The district attorney has faced criticism for taking so long to make a decision in the 2 1/2-year-old case, which intensified after Hall shot and killed Tyrell Wilson on March 11.

Wilson was carrying a knife in the middle of an intersection. Graphic body camera footage released Wednesday shows the deputy call out to Tyrell Wilson, 33, accusing him of jaywalking, and then shoot him in the middle of a busy intersection within seconds of asking him to drop his knife.

The family’s attorney released another video Thursday taken by someone stopped at the intersection.

“It doesn’t seem like he was doing anything,” someone says in the video. After Hall shoots Wilson, which can be clearly seen in the video, another person says, “Oh, my God. … This dude just got shot and killed, bro.”

The footage released Wednesday shows Wilson walking away as the deputy walks toward him, then eventually turns to face him, holding a knife, and says, “Touch me and see what’s up.”

As they stand in an intersection, Hall asks him three times to drop the knife as Wilson motions toward his face, saying, “Kill me.” Hall shoots once, and Wilson drops to the ground as drivers stopped in the intersection look on.

The entire confrontation lasted about a minute.

Attorney John Burris, who is representing the families of Wilson and Arboleda, said both men were mentally ill. Burris said if prosecutors had acted more quickly in the Arboleda case, Wilson might still be alive. He said Hall was unnecessarily aggressive toward Wilson, who was not causing any problems and was backing away from the deputy before he was shot without warning.

“This is a homeless man, he’s walking away, minding his own business. He’s basically saying go away, leave me alone,” Burris said. “You felt compelled to kill him.”

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston said the videos show Wilson was threatening Hall and was possibly throwing rocks at drivers.

“He did threaten Officer Hall,” Livingston said. “And he did start advancing toward Officer Hall in the middle of a major intersection. Officers are forced to make split-second decisions to protect themselves and the public, and that’s what happened here.”

US troops in Afghanistan begin packing gear in pullout prep

By KATHY GANNON for the Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military has begun shipping equipment and winding down contracts with local service providers ahead of the May 1 start of the final phase of its military pullout from Afghanistan, a U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday.

FILE – In this April 14, 2021 file photo, President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. A U.S. defense department official said Thursday April 22, 2021, that the U.S. military has begun shipping equipment and winding down contracts with local service providers ahead of the May 1 start of the final phase of its military pullout from Afghanistan. The pullout marks the end of America’s longest war, after a 20-year military engagement. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

The pullout under U.S. President Joe Biden marks the end of America’s longest war after a 20-year military engagement. Currently, some 2,500 U.S. soldiers and about 7,000 allied forces are still in Afghanistan.

In February last year, the U.S. military began closing its smaller bases. In mid-April, the Biden administration announced that the final phase of the withdrawal would begin May 1 and be completed before Sept. 11.

Since then, the military has been shipping equipment and winding down local contracts for services such as trash pickup and maintenance work, the U.S. official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations.

While preparations are under way, troops likely won’t begin to depart for a few weeks, he said, adding that “we won’t see a coming down of the (troop) numbers” until remaining bases close.

There have been indications that the pullout could be completed well before Sept. 11, which marks the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida terror attack on the U.S. and the trigger for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Germany’s Defense Ministry said discussions are underway among military planners with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Kabul for a possible withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan as early as July 4.

In the short term, America will likely increase its troop presence in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said last Friday. The additional troops would be in Afghanistan over the coming weeks and months to help with what the herculean task of wrapping up 20 years of war.

While much of the equipment headed back to the U.S. will be shipped by air, the military will also use land routes through Pakistan and north through Central Asia, the Defense Department official said.

The U.S. equipment that is neither shipped back to America nor given to the Afghan National Security forces will be sold to contractors, who will, in turn, sell it in the local markets.

“You’ll most likely start seeing it eventually showing up in bazaars as scrap,” said the official.

The Taliban, meanwhile, were non-committal when asked by the AP whether the insurgents would attack departing U.S. and NATO troops. “It’s too early for these issues, nothing can be said about the future,” said Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem.

In a deal the Taliban signed last year with former President Donald Trump, the final U.S. withdrawal deadline was set as May 1. Under the agreement, the Taliban promised not to attack U.S. and NATO troops but they also later promised “consequences” if Washington defied the May 1 deadline.

Garland announces sweeping police probe after Floyd verdict

By MICHAEL BALSAMO and AMY FORLITI for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis after a former officer was convicted in the killing of George Floyd there, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.

The decision comes a day after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, setting off a wave of relief across the country. The death prompted months of mass protests against policing and the treatment of Black people in the U.S.

The Justice Department was already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights.

“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said.

The new investigation is known as a “pattern or practice” — examining whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing — and will be a more sweeping probe of the entire police department and may result in major changes to policing there.

It will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations and its treatment of people with behavioral health issues and will assess the department’s current systems of accountability, Garland said.

A senior Justice Department official said prosecutors chose to announce the probe a day after the verdict because they did not want to do anything to interfere with Chauvin’s trial. The official would not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Three other ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death will be tried together beginning Aug. 23. The official said their trial is far enough off that officials believed it was still appropriate to make the announcement Wednesday, even though they are still awaiting trial on state charges.

It’s unclear whether the years under investigation will begin when Floyd died or before. Garland said a public report would be issued, if the department finds a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. The department could also bring a lawsuit against the police department, which in the past have typically ended in settlement agreements or consent decrees to force changes.

The Minneapolis Police Department is also being investigated by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which is looking into the department’s policies and practices over the last decade to see if it engaged in systemic discriminatory practices.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said city officials “welcome the investigation as an opportunity to continue working toward deep change and accountability in the Minneapolis Police Department.” The city council also issued a statement supporting the investigation, saying its work had been constrained by local laws and that it welcomes “new tools to pursue transformational, structural changes to how the City provides for public safety.”

The Justice Department official said attorneys from the department’s civil rights division are on the ground in Minneapolis, working with the U.S. attorney’s office and have been speaking with community groups and others.

Floyd, 46, was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.

The centerpiece of the case was bystander video of Floyd, handcuffed behind his back, gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was about 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.

Floyd’s death May 25 became a flashpoint in the national conversation about the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement and sparked worldwide protests.

At trial, Chauvin’s defense attorney persistently suggested Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Floyd’s neck for as long as prosecutors argued, suggesting instead it was across Floyd’s back, shoulder blades and arm.

The decision to announce a sweeping Justice Department investigation comes as President Joe Biden has promised his administration would not rest following the jury’s verdict in the case. In a Tuesday evening speech, he said much more needed to be done.

“‘I can’t breathe.’ Those were George Floyd’s last words,” Biden said. “We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can’t turn away.”

The Justice Department had previously considered opening a pattern or practice investigation into the police department soon after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General Bill Barr was hesitant to do so at the time, fearing that it could cause further divisions in law enforcement amid widespread protests and civil unrest, three people familiar with the matter told the AP.

Garland said the challenges being faced “are deeply woven into our history.”

“They did not arise today or last year,” Garland said. “Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency knowing that change cannot wait.”

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Forliti contributed to this report from Minneapolis.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd.

More than 180 reported arrested in Navalny demonstrations

By JIM HEINTZ and DARIA LITVINOVA for the Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Police across Russia have arrested more than 180 people in connection with demonstrations Wednesday in support of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a human rights group said. Many were seized before protests even began, including two top Navalny associates in Moscow.

Navalny’s team called the unsanctioned demonstrations after reports that his health is deteriorating while on hunger strike, which he began March 31.

“The situation with Alexei is indeed critical, and so we moved up the day of the mass protests,” Vladimir Ashurkov, a close Navalny ally and executive director of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption, told The Associated Press. “Alexei’s health has sharply deteriorated, and he is in a rather critical condition. Doctors are saying that judging by his test (results), he should be admitted into intensive care.”

His organization had said protests would take place in more than 180 cities, but it was not immediately clear if they would match the massive turnout for protests in January that were the largest in Russia in a decade.

Protests in support of Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s biggest foe, began in each city around 7 p.m. and moved west across the sprawling country. The largest turnouts were expected in Moscow, where demonstrators were called to gather in a square adjacent to the Kremlin, and in St. Petersburg.

His team called the nationwide protests for the same day that Putin gave his annual state-of-the-nation address. In his speech, he denounced foreign governments’ alleged attempts to impose their will on Russia. Putin, who never publicly uses Navalny’s name, did not specify to whom the denunciation referred, but Western governments have been harshly critical of Navalny’s treatment and have called for his release.

In Moscow, Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and Lyubov Sobol, one of his most prominent associates, were detained by police in the morning.

Yarmysh, who was put under house arrest after the January protests, was detained outside her apartment building when she went out during the one hour she is allowed to leave, said her lawyer, Veronika Polyakova. She was taken to a police station and charged with organizing an illegal gathering.

Sobol was removed from a taxi by uniformed policei, said her lawyer, Vladimir Voronin.

OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests and offers aid to detainees, said at least 182 people had been arrested. It also reported that police searched the offices of Navalny’s organization in Yekaterinbrug and detained a Navalny-affiliated journalist in Khabarovsk.

In St. Petersburg, the State University of Aerospace Instrumentation posted a notice warning that students participating in unauthorized demonstrations could be expelled.

The 44-year-old Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. Russian officials have rejected the accusation.

Soon after, a court found that Navalny’s long stay in Germany violated the terms of a suspended sentence he was handed for a 2014 embezzlement conviction and ordered him to serve 2 1/2 years in prison .

Navalny began the hunger strike to protest prison officials’ refusal to let his doctors visit when he began experiencing severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. The penitentiary service has said Navalny was getting all the medical help he needs.

Navalny’s physician, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said recently that test results he received from Navalny’s family showed sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidneys and he “could die at any moment.”

On Sunday, he was transferred to a hospital in another prison and given a glucose drip. Prison officials rebuffed attempts by his doctors to visit him there.

Russian authorities have escalated their crackdown on Navalny’s allies and supporters. The Moscow prosecutor’s office asking a court to brand Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his network of regional offices as extremist organizations. Human rights activists say such a move would paralyze the activities of the groups and expose their members and donors to prison sentences of up to 10 years.

Navalny’s allies vowed to continue their work despite the pressure.

“It is, of course, an element of escalation,” Ashurkov told the AP. “But I have to say we were able to regroup and organize our work despite the pressure before. I’m confident that now, too, we will find ways to work. … We have neither the intention nor the possibility to abandon what we’re doing.”

Police kill Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, who attacked 2 with knife

By FARNOUSH AMIRI for the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The fatal police shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black teenager seen on video charging at two people with a knife, came within minutes of the verdict in George Floyd’s killing — causing outrage by some over the continued use of lethal force by Columbus police.

Officials with the Columbus Division of Police released footage of the shooting Tuesday night just hours after it happened, a departure from protocol as the force faces immense scrutiny from the public following a series of recent high-profile police killings that have led to clashes.

The girl was identified by Franklin County Children Services, which said in a release that the 16-year-old Bryant was under the care of the agency at the time of her death.

The 10-second clip begins with the officer getting out of his car at a house where police had been dispatched after someone called 911 saying they were being physically threatened, Interim Police Chief Michael Woods said at the news conference. The officer takes a few steps toward a group of people in the driveway when Bryant starts swinging a knife wildly at another girl or woman, who falls backward. The officer shouts several times to get down.

Bryant then charges at another girl or woman, who is pinned against a car.

From a few feet away, with people on either side of him, the officer fires four shots, and Bryant slumps to the ground. A black-handled blade similar to a kitchen knife or steak knife lies on the sidewalk next to her.

A man immediately yells at the officer, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

The officer responds, “She had a knife. She just went at her.”

The race of the officer wasn’t clear and he was taken off patrolling the streets for the time being.

Bryant was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead, police said. It remains unclear if anyone else was injured.

Woods said state law allows police to use deadly force to protect themselves or others, and investigators will determine whether this shooting was such an instance. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is now reviewing the killing following an agreement with the city last summer for all police shootings to be handled by the independent investigators under Attorney General Dave Yost’s office.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther mourned the loss of the young victim but defended the officer’s use of deadly force.

“We know based on this footage the officer took action to protect another young girl in our community,” he told reporters.

The shooting happened about 25 minutes before a judge read the verdict convicting former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Floyd. It also took place less than 5 miles from where the funeral for Andre Hill, who was killed by another Columbus police officer in December, was held earlier this year. The officer in Hill’s case, Adam Coy, a 19-year veteran of the force, is now facing trial for murder, with the next hearing scheduled for April 28.

Less than three weeks before Hill was killed, a Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy fatally shot 23-year-old Casey Goodson Jr. in Columbus. The case remains under federal investigation.

Last week, Columbus police shot and killed a man who was in a hospital emergency room with a gun on him. Officials are continuing an investigation into that shooting.

Kimberly Shepherd, 50, who has lived in the neighborhood where Tuesday’s shooting took place for 17 years, said she knew the teenage victim.

“The neighborhood has definitely went through its changes, but nothing like this,” Shepherd said of the shooting. “This is the worst thing that has ever happened out here and unfortunately it is at the hands of police.”

Shepherd and her neighbor Jayme Jones, 51, had celebrated the guilty verdict of Chauvin. But things changed quickly, she said.

“We were happy about the verdict. But you couldn’t even enjoy that,” Shepherd said. “Because as you’re getting one phone call that he was guilty, I’m getting the next phone call that this is happening in my neighborhood.”

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

COVID-19 hospitalizations up 20% in Alabama in 10 days

By JAY REEVES for the Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 have jumped about 20% in less than two weeks in Alabama, a trend that health officials said Tuesday they were monitoring but don’t consider a sign of another coming crisis in the pandemic.

Alabama National Guard Sgt. Antwan Marshall gives a COVID-19 vaccination to Shirley Thompson on Friday, April 2, 2021 during a clinic at Wilcox High School in Camden, Ala. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

Statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health showed 362 people were hospitalized Monday for the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Though up from the 301 patients just 10 days earlier, the total was still just a fraction of the 3,070 patients who pushed the state’s intensive care wards to near capacity in mid-January.

The increase in cases is concerning but doesn’t immediately threaten the state’s health care system because the number of people being treated remains far below levels from earlier this year, said Dr. Don Williamson, chief executive of the Alabama Hospital Association.

Also, he said, a major spike in the number of severely ill patients isn’t expected because more and more people are being vaccinated and increasing numbers of patients are young people, who tend to fare better than older patients with health complications.

“It’s nothing dramatic, but it’s something we need to be aware is happening,” said Williamson, who previously served as state health officer. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 163, an increase of about 50%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Scott Harris, who followed Williamson at Public Health, said officials were monitoring the increase in hospitalizations but aren’t yet sure of the cause. The bump follows spring break, Easter gatherings and the end of the state’s mandatory face mask rule on April 9, any of which could be a factor.

“The uptick in hospitalizations is just a reminder that our most vulnerable people still need to be cautious,” he told The Associated Press.

More than 522,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alabama since the beginning of the pandemic, and nearly 10,800 have died. While about 1.4 million in the state have received at least one dose of vaccine, Alabama is last nationally in its rate of immunizing people.

Vaccine is more plentiful than ever, Williamson said, but multiple hospitals statewide had immunization appointments available last week “and no one was showing up to get the vaccines.”

“In a significant number of our hospitals the demand is down,” he said. It’s unclear whether the demand at hospitals was low because shots were available elsewhere or because large numbers of people are refusing to be vaccinated, Williamson said.

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AP writer Kim Chandler in Montgomery contributed to this report.

Police: 1 killed, 2 wounded in shooting at NY grocery store

From the Associated Press

WEST HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — An employee was killed and two people were wounded Tuesday in a shooting at a Long Island grocery store, police said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said a person of interest in the shooting had worked at the store and remains at large.

This aerial photo provided by WABC shows police responding to the scene of a shooting at a Stop & Shop supermarket in West Hempstead, N.Y., on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.

The shooting happened around 11 a.m. inside a manager’s office upstairs from the shopping floor at the Stop & Shop in West Hempstead, Ryder said. There were about a “couple hundred” shoppers inside the store at the time.

The name of the victims have not been made public. The man who was killed was a 49-year-old store employee, Ryder said. The two wounded were hospitalized and were conscious and alert.

Police identified the person of interest as Gabriel DeWitt Wilson and gave a date of birth for him indicating that he is 31 years old. It was unclear whether he was still employed by the store, Ryder said.

Wilson was wearing all black and carrying a small handgun as he fled westbound on Hempstead Turnpike, Ryder told reporters at a news conference in a nearby parking lot.

Video of the aftermath of the shooting showed police cars and ambulances parked in front of the store, officers with long guns and yellow crime scene tape draped across the entrance.

Curran said nearby schools have been told not to admit visitors and residents were asked to remain indoors.

West Hempstead is near the New York City-Nassau County border and about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of midtown Manhattan.

Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid said in a statement that the company is “shocked and heartbroken by this act of violence” and that the West Hempstead store will remain closed until further notice.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, our associates, customers and the first responders who have responded heroically to this tragic situation,” Reid said.

Stop & Shop is a grocery chain in the northeastern U.S. owned by the Dutch company Ahold Delhaize.

‘No place for you’: Indian hospitals buckle amid virus surge

By ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL and NEHA MEHROTRA for the Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — Seema Gandotra, sick with the coronavirus, gasped for breath in an ambulance for 10 hours as it tried unsuccessfully to find an open bed at six hospitals in India’s sprawling capital. By the time she was admitted, it was too late, and the 51-year-old died hours later.

FILE In this April 19, 2021 file photo, a relative of a person who died of COVID-19 reacts during cremation, in New Delhi, India. India’s health system is collapsing under the worst surge in corona.

Rajiv Tiwari, whose oxygen levels began falling after he tested positive for the virus, has the opposite problem: He identified an open bed, but the resident of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh can’t get to it. “There is no ambulance to take me to the hospital,” he said.

Such tragedies are familiar from surges in other parts of the world — but were largely unknown in India, which was able to prevent a collapse in its health system last year through a harsh lockdown. But now they are everyday occurrences in the vast country, which is seeing its largest surge of the pandemic so far and watching its chronically underfunded health system crumble.

Tests are delayed. Medical oxygen is scarce. Hospitals are understaffed and overflowing. Intensive care units are full. Nearly all ventilators are in use, and the dead are piling up at crematoriums and graveyards. India recorded over 250,000 new infections and over 1,700 deaths in the past 24 hours alone, and the U.K. announced a travel ban on most visitors from the country this week. Overall, India has reported more than 15 million cases and some 180,000 deaths — and experts say these numbers are likely undercounted.

“The surge in infections has come like a storm and a big battle lies ahead,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation Tuesday night.

India’s wave of cases is contributing to a worldwide rise in infections as many places experience deepening crises, such as Brazil and France, spurred in part by new, more contagious variants, including one first detected in India. More than a year into the pandemic, global deaths have passed 3 million and are climbing again, running at nearly 12,000 per day on average. At the same time, vaccination campaigns have seen setbacks in many places — and India’s surge has only exacerbated that: The country is a major vaccine producer but was forced to delay deliveries of shots to focus on its domestic demand.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking India’s pandemic, said India failed to learn from surges elsewhere and take anticipatory measures.

When new infections started dipping in September, authorities thought the worst of the pandemic was over. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan even declared in March that the country had entered the “endgame” — but he was already behind the curve: Average weekly cases in Maharashtra state, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, had tripled in the previous month.

Mukherjee was among those who had urged authorities to take advantage of cases being low earlier in the year to speed up vaccinations. Instead, officials dithered in limiting huge gatherings during Hindu festivals and refused to delay ongoing elections in the eastern West Bengal state, where experts fear that large, unmasked crowds at rallies will fuel the spread of the virus.

Now India’s two largest cities have imposed strict lockdowns, the pain of which will fall inordinately on the poor. Many have already left major cities, fearing a repeat of last year, when an abrupt lockdown cost millions of migrant workers their jobs in cities and forced many to walk to their home villages or risk starvation.

In his speech, Prime Minister Modi urged states to avoid lockdowns by creating micro-containment zones to control outbreaks instead.

New Delhi, the capital, is rushing to convert schools into hospitals. Field hospitals in hard-hit cities that had been abandoned are being resuscitated. India is trying to import oxygen and has started to divert oxygen supplies from industry to the health system.

It remains to be seen whether these frantic efforts will be enough. New Delhi’s government-run Sanjay Gandhi Hospital is increasing its beds for COVID-19 patients from 46 to 160. But R. Meneka, the official coordinating the COVID-19 response at the hospital, said he wasn’t sure if the facility had the capacity to provide oxygen to that many beds.

The government-run hospital at Burari, an industrial hub in the capitals’ outskirts, only had oxygen for two days Monday, and found that most vendors in the city had run out, said Ramesh Verma, who coordinates the COVID-19 response there.

“Every minute, we keep getting hundreds of calls for beds,” he said.

Kamla Devi, a 71-year-old diabetic, was rushed to a hospital in New Delhi when her blood sugar levels fell last week. On returning home, her levels plummeted again but this time, there were no beds. She died before she could be tested for the virus. “If you have corona(virus) or if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. The hospitals have no place for you,” said Dharmendra Kumar, her son.

Laboratories were unprepared for the steep rise in demand for testing that came with the current surge, and everyone was “caught with their pants down,” said A. Velumani, the chairman and managing director of Thyrocare, one of India’s largest private testing labs. He said the current demand was three times that of last year.

India’s massive vaccination drive is also struggling. Several states have flagged shortages, although the federal government has claimed there are enough stocks.

India said last week that it would allow the use of all COVID-19 shots that have been greenlit by the World Health Organization or regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain or Japan. On Monday, it said it would soon expand vaccinations to include every adult in the country, an estimated 900 million people. But with vaccines in short global supply, it isn’t clear when Indian vaccine makers will have the capacity to meet these goals. Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech said it was scaling up to make 700 million doses each year.

Meanwhile, Shahid Malik, who works at a small supplier of oxygen, said the demand for medical oxygen had increased by a factor of 10. His phone has been ringing continuously for two days. By Monday, the shop still had oxygen but no cylinders.

He answered each call with the same message: “If you have your own cylinder, come pick up the oxygen. If you don’t, we can’t help you.”

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Associated Press journalists Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, Krutika Pathi in Bengaluru and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Retired Ohio sheriff and tiny K-9 partner die the same day

By MARK GILLISPIE for the Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Ohio county sheriff and his tiny police dog were inseparable, their lives unwaveringly intertwined.

It thus seems fitting that retired Geauga County Sheriff Dan McClelland, 67, and his crime-fighting partner Midge, 16, would both die on Wednesday — McClelland, at a hospital after a lengthy battle with cancer and Midge, a few hours later at home, perhaps of a broken heart.

This 2006 image provided by John Hoffart shows then Sheriff Dan McClelland and his small police dog Midge at the Geauga County, Ohio, sheriff’s department. Both died on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. McClelland after a lengthy battle with cancer and Midge, perhaps, of a broken heart. The family said they will be buried together. McClelland retired in 2016, after 13 years as sheriff, and 44 total in the department. The last ten with Midge, a drug-sniffing Chihuahua-rat terrier mix certified by Guinness World Records as the smallest police dog on the globe. (John Hoffart via AP)

McClelland retired at the end of 2016 after 13 years as sheriff in this semi-rural county east of Cleveland. He spent 44 years total with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office and a decade alongside Midge, a drug-sniffing Chihuahua-rat terrier mix certified by Guinness World Records in 2006 as the smallest police dog on the globe.

He and Midge — but especially Midge — were rock stars in Geauga County. Wherever McClelland went, Midge was by his side. At the office, she would nap on a dog bed beside his desk. Schoolchildren were enthralled during their visits.

McClelland’s successor, Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand, recalls driving a golf cart with McClelland and Midge in the passenger seat at the Great Geauga County Fair. He said it was a slow ride as people flocked to them, petting and fussing over Midge.

“He used to joke that people would see him in a parade in a car and would say, ‘Hey, there’s Midge and whatshisname,’” Hildenbrand said. “I think she was more popular than him.”

Retired Lt. John Hiscox, a longtime spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, put it this way: “It was like bringing Elvis Presley to the midway.”

Despite her size, Midge was no slouch when it came to her job. It was McClelland who decided that Midge, the runt of her litter, would make an ideal drug-sniffing dog.

Unlike large and more aggressive police dogs, the mild-mannered Midge would search vehicles without tearing up upholstery or leaving muddy footprints. Searching underneath vehicles was never a problem.

Their partnership led to appearances on daytime television talk shows and mentions in national magazines, including Playboy. She maintained her K-9 certifications until their joint retirement.

Hildenbrand said he was surprised when McClelland decided to retire and begin traveling the country in a recreational vehicle with his wife, Beverly, and, of course, Midge.

“He spent 44 years protecting people in this county and, quite frankly, he loved his job, every minute of it,” Hildenbrand said. “I thought he’d never retire.

McClelland was a good leader who always had the best interest of the county and community in mind, Hiscox said.

“He was fair and was not afraid to make a decision,” Hiscox said. “He was always willing to listen, but when he made a decision it was final.”

The family said McClelland and Midge will be buried together.

Prosecutor: FedEx shooter didn’t have ‘red flag’ hearing

From the Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former FedEx employee who shot and killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis never appeared before a judge for a hearing under Indiana’s “red flag” law, even after his mother called police last year to say her son might commit “suicide by cop,” a prosecutor said Monday.

A body is taken from the scene where multiple people were shot at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis, Friday, April 16, 2021. A gunman killed several people and wounded others before taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Authorities believed they had done what they needed to by seizing the pump-action shotgun from Brandon Scott Hole in March 2020, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said.

“Absolutely there needs to be some intervention and absolutely the firearm needs to be taken away. … But the risk is if we move forward with that (red flag) process and lose, we have to give that firearm back to that person,” Mears said. “That’s not something we were willing to do.”

The shotgun was never returned to Hole, police have said.

Mears added, “I think this case illustrates the limitations” of the law.

Indianapolis police said Saturday that Hole, 19, legally bought what they described as assault rifles he used in Thursday’s attack. The police did not reveal where he bought them, citing the ongoing investigation.

In 2005, Indiana was one of the first states to enact a “red flag” law after an Indianapolis police officer was killed by a man whose weapons were returned to him despite his hospitalization months earlier for an emergency mental health evaluation.

The legislation allows police or courts to seize guns from people who show warning signs of violence. It is intended to prevent people from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they are found by a judge to present “an imminent risk” to themselves or others.

Authorities have two weeks after seizing someone’s weapon to argue in court that the person should not be allowed to possess a gun.

Bitter experience helps French ICUs crest latest virus wave

By JOHN LEICESTER for the Associated Press

ROUEN, France (AP) — Slowly suffocating in a French intensive care ward, Patrick Aricique feared he would die from his diseased lungs that felt “completely burned from the inside, burned like the cathedral in Paris,” as tired doctors and nurses labored day and night to keep gravely ill COVID-19 patients like him alive.

A married couple in the same ICU died within hours of each other as Aricique, feeling as fragile as “a soap bubble ready to pop,” also wrestled the coronavirus. The 67-year-old retired building contractor credits a divine hand for his survival. “I saw archangels, I saw little cherubs,” he said. “It was like communicating with the afterlife.”

A nurse tends to a patient affected by the COVID-19 virus in the ICU unit at the Charles Nicolle public hospital, Thursday, April 15, 2021 in Rouen, France. A renewed crush of COVID-19 cases is again forcing intensive care units across France to grapple with the macabre mathematics of how to make space for thousands of  critically ill patients (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

On his side were French medical professionals who, forged on the bitter experiences of previous infection waves, now fight relentlessly to keep patients awake and off mechanical ventilators, if at all possible. They treated Aricique with nasal tubes and a mask that bathed his heaving lungs in a constant flow of oxygen. That spared him the discomfort of a thick ventilation tube deep down his throat and heavy sedation from which patients often fear — sometimes, rightly so — that they will never awake.

While mechanical ventilation is unavoidable for some patients, it’s a step taken less systematically now than at the start of the pandemic. Dr. Philippe Gouin, who heads the ICU ward where Aricique underwent treatment for severe COVID-19, said, “We know that every tube we insert is going to bring its share of complications, extensions in stay, and sometimes morbidity.”

About 15% to 20% of his intubated patients don’t survive, he said.

“It’s a milestone that weighs on survival,” Gouin said. ”We know that we will lose a certain number of patients who we won’t be able to help negotiate this corner.”

The shift to less-invasive breathing treatments also is helping French ICUs stave off collapse under a renewed crush of coronavirus cases. Super-charged by a more contagious virus variant that first ravaged neighboring Britain, the third infection wave in France has pushed the country’s COVID-19-related death toll past 100,000 people. Hospitals across the country are grappling again with the macabre mathematics of making space for thousands of critically sick patients.

“We have a continuous flow of cases,” said Dr. Philippe Montravers, an ICU chief at Bichat Hospital in Paris, which is again shoe-horning patients into makeshift critical care units. “Each of these cases are absolutely terrible stories — for the families, for the patients themselves, of course, for the physicians in charge, for the nurses.”

Sedated patients kept alive with mechanical ventilation often occupy their ICU beds for several weeks, even months, and the physical and mental trauma of their ordeals can take months more to heal. But 13 days after he was admitted for ICU care in the Normandy cathedral city of Rouen, Aricique was sufficiently recovered for another critically ill patient to take his place.

A non-invasive nasal ventilation system dispensing thousands of liters (hundreds of gallons) of life-sustaining oxygen every hour got him through the worst of his infection, until he was well enough for the flow to be reduced to a trickle and to sit upright, his New Testament bible at his side. Tucking into a small lunch of omelette and red cabbage to start rebuilding his strength, Aricique said he felt resurrected. A nurse freed him from drips that had been plugged into arms, binning the tubes like entrails.

Making rounds with junior doctors and nurses in tow, Dr. Dorothee Carpentier allowed herself a mini-celebration as she swept past Aricique’s room, having declared him fit for discharge. The patient in the adjacent room also could leave, she decided. She described the imminent departures as “little victories” for the full 20-bed ward, a temporary set-up in what was previously a surgical unit and is now entirely converted for C0VID-19 care.

“I imagine they’ll be filled again by the morning,” Carpentier said of the two vacated beds. “The tough thing about this third wave is that there is no stop button. We don’t know when it will start to slow.”

Further down the corridor, a 69-year-old woman placed face-down on her stomach was struggling with the effort of breathing with an oxygenation mask and getting dangerously close to the point where doctors would decide to anesthetize and intubate her. Nurse Gregory Bombard recruited the woman’s visiting daughter-in-law in an effort to stave off that next step, impressing on her the importance of sticking with the mask.

“Morale is so important, and she has to turn this corner,” Bombard said. “We do what we can. They have to make the effort to win, too, otherwise they will lose.”

“Do what you can,” the nurse told the daughter-in-law..

The relative later emerged from the patient’s room misty-eyed and shaken.

“It’s really tough to see her like this,” she said. “She is letting herself go.”

In another room, Gouin gently pleaded with a 55-year-old market stall operator who complained that his oxygenation mask made him feel claustrophobic.

“You have to play the game,” the doctor insisted. “My goal is that we don’t get to the point where we have to put you to sleep.”

The patient concurred. “I don’t want to be intubated, be in a coma, not knowing when you are going to wake up,” he said.

Intubations can be traumatic for everyone involved. A patient who sobbed when he was put to sleep remained sedated in the ICU nearly two weeks later.

“You could see he was terrified,” Bombard recalled. “It was awful.”

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Alert level raised for Aleutian Islands volcano emitting ash

From the Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain has continued to emit ash, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported Thursday, prompting officials to raise the alert level.

Satellite views suggested ash emissions from the Semisopochnoi volcano that started in the morning are continuing with no decrease in intensity. The observatory listed the volcano being under a watch.

The ash cloud extends more than 217 miles (350 kilometers) southeast of the volcano and has reached heights of up to 20,000 feet (6 kilometers) above sea level, the observatory said.

Adak is about 160 miles (257 kilometers) east of the volcano.

Wright family demands more severe charges for Minn. ex-cop

By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER and SCOTT BAUER for the Associated Press

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — Daunte Wright’s family joined community leaders in demanding more severe charges against the white former police officer who fatally shot the young Black man in a Minneapolis suburb, where hundreds of protesters again filled the streets in front of the police station.

The protesters — shouting obscenities, shaking the police station’s security fence and occasionally lobbing water bottles — began thinning out as the 10 p.m. curfew approached in Brooklyn Center.

Naisha Wright, aunt of the deceased Daunte Wright, holds up images depicting X26P Taser and a Glock 17 handgun during a news conference at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Sunday’s shooting of Wright, 20, during a traffic stop. The former police chief of Brooklyn Center, a majority nonwhite suburb, said Potter mistakenly fired her handgun when she meant to use her Taser. Both the chief and Potter resigned Tuesday.

Potter — who was released on $100,000 bond hours after her Wednesday arrest — appeared alongside her attorney, Earl Gray, at her initial appearance Thursday over Zoom, saying little. Gray kept his camera on himself for most of the hearing, swiveling it only briefly to show Potter. Her next court appearance was set for May 17.

Wright’s death has been followed by protests every night this week outside the city’s police station, with demonstrators sometimes clashing with officers who have driven them away with gas grenades, rubber bullets and long lines of riot police.

While the Thursday night protest in Brooklyn Center focused largely on Wright’s death, some in the crowds noted it came hours after police in Chicago released graphic body camera video of an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Hispanic boy, in March.

“It is happening in every single city, every single day across the country,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told protesters early in the evening, before leading them in a chant of “Say his name! Adam Toledo!”″

Protesters also tied air fresheners to the fencing at the police station, a nod to Wright’s mother saying that her son told her he had been pulled over for an air freshener dangling from his mirror. Police say Wright was stopped for expired registration.

Wright’s family members, like the protesters, say there’s no justification for the shooting.

“Unfortunately, there’s never going to be justice for us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said at a news conference Thursday. “Justice isn’t even a word to me. I do want accountability.”

Wright family attorney Ben Crump and others point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.

Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter’s charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Intent isn’t a necessary component of either charge. A key difference is that third-degree murder requires someone to act with a “depraved mind,” a term that has been the subject of legal disputes, but includes an act eminently dangerous to others, performed without regard for human life.

Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner’s life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands.

Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved in the Wright shooting played a role in which charges were brought.

“If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt,” Hussein said earlier Thursday.

Potter could have been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. But she noted that Potter will likely argue that using the gun was a mistake, while Noor never said he didn’t intend to use his weapon.

“This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is,” Moran said. “But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability.”

The prosecutor who brought the case, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, did not return messages seeking comment.

Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area awaits the outcome of the trial of Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death last May. Crump pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for “police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people.”

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him. Potter, a 26-year veteran, pulls her service pistol and is heard repeatedly yelling “Taser!” before firing. She then says, “Holy (expletive), I shot him.”

Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

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Bauer contributed from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writers Doug Glass, Mohamed Ibrahim and Tim Sullivan in Minneapolis, and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

From the Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter killed himself, police said.

Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.

At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injuries. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.

This image made from video shows a wide view of building with flashing lights from emergency vehicles in Indianapolis, IN, Friday, April 16, 2021. Police in Indianapolis say multiple people were shot and killed in a shooting late Thursday at a Fedex facility. (WRTV via AP)

The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information. Cook said it was too early to tell whether the shooter was an employee at the facility.

Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.

“We’re still trying to ascertain the exact reason and cause for this incident,” Cook said.

FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.

“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.

Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.

Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.

A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.

“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.

Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”

He said his niece did not know the shooter.

South Africans anxious over pause in use of J&J vaccines

By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME and ANDREW MELDRUM for the Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s decision to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to preliminary reports of rare blood clots has left the country without any shots as it struggles to combat an aggressive coronavirus variant.

FILE — In this Friday, March 26, 2021 file photo, healthcare workers queue to receive the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa has suspended giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a “precautionary measure” following the FDA decision in the United States to pause the use of the vaccine while very rare blood clot cases are examined. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, file)

South Africa has more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including at least 53,000 deaths, representing more than 30% of all the confirmed cases in Africa’s 54 countries. So far, it has only inoculated 290,00 health care workers, all with the J&J vaccine.

South Africa’s plans to begin large-scale vaccinations next month are dependent upon deliveries of millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The government said it expects to vaccinate 40 million of the nation’s 60 million people by February 2022.

The health minister said South Africa has not had any reports of blood clots in vaccine recipients, the issue that led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday to recommend a pause in the use of the J&J vaccine. Some health experts criticized South Africa’s move to follow the U.S. at such a critical juncture.

“I had expected the government in South Africa not to be perturbed by the findings from the U.S. I expected that there would not be any disruption,” Mosa Moshabela, professor of public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, told The Associated Press. “Johnson & Johnson is our only (vaccine) option currently. I really did not expect that we would need to pause.”

He said it’s likely that South African health officials will be able to resume use of the J&J vaccines soon, although the disruption could contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

The National Health and Allied Workers, however, welcomed the pause to ensure the J&J’s product is safe, union spokesman Khaya Xaba said.

This is not the first abrupt change South Africa has made in its vaccination strategy. In February, the country scrapped its plans to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to its health care workers because a small, preliminary test showed that it gave minimal protection against mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 caused by the variant dominant in South Africa.

It was then that South Africa quickly pivoted to the use of the J&J vaccine. The country had already participated in an international clinical trial of the vaccine without any problems. The vaccine also has been found to have good efficacy against the variant dominant in South Africa.

The country has ordered 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. South Africa has also ordered a total of 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The J&J vaccine is being given to South Africa’s 1.2 million health care workers as a large-scale research study, because the vaccine has not yet been approved for general use in South Africa.

Rashika Alberlito, an intensive care unit administrator at a private hospital in Kwazulu-Natal province, was injected last month with the J&J vaccine. She is now extremely worried: she was hospitalized for nearly two weeks in 2015 because of a blood clot in one of her lungs. Alberlito remains on blood-thinning medication, and the news about the possible link between the J&J vaccine and blood clots concerned her.

“I asked about the safety of the vaccine given my condition, and I was assured it was safe,” Alberlito told The Associated Press. “That is why I was very shocked and worried to hear the announcement by the minister, but I hope the test results would confirm no causal link between the blood clots and the vaccine.”

Like Alberlito, many South Africans are hoping the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be deemed safe.

While acknowledging the importance of vaccine safety, professor Moshabela said it is urgent that South Africa vaccinate millions of people as soon as possible. He hopes the suspension of the J&J vaccine will not last long.

“In the meantime, you’re going to have a lot of people who catch COVID, and some of them will die while you delay the (vaccine) rollout,” Moshabela said.

Potential problems with the J&J vaccine could affect all of Africa, as the African Union recently secured orders for 220 million doses of the vaccine to be used across the continent.

“The last thing that we want to have is any cloud of doubt around any vaccines in Africa and the world. It just strengthens that belief that vaccines are not safe on the continent of Africa, or in the world for that matter,” Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a webinar Wednesday.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

1 dead, 6 rescued, 12 still missing from capsized ship

By STACEY PLAISANCE, KEVIN McGILL and JEFF MARTIN for the Associated Press

PORT FOURCHON, La. (AP) — The Coast Guard searched for 12 people missing off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday after finding one crew member dead and pulling six survivors from rough seas when their commercial platform vessel capsized in hurricane-force winds.

A Coast Guard Station Grand Isle 45-foot Respone Boat-Medium boatcrew heads toward a capsized 175-foot commercial lift boat Tuesday, April 13, 2021, searching for people in the water 8 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana. The Coast Guard and multiple other boats rescued six people onboard a commercial lift boat that capsized off the coast of Louisiana on Tuesday night and were searching for more, the agency said.(U.S. Coast Guard Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris via AP)

Coast Guard Capt. Will Watson said winds were 80 to 90 mph (130 to 145 km/h) and seas were 7 to 9 feet (2.1 to (2.7 meters) when the Seacor Power overturned. “It’s challenging under any circumstance,” he said.

The bulky vessel with three long legs that can be lowered to the sea floor to make it an offshore platform flipped over Tuesday afternoon miles south of Port Fourchon. At one point, video showed the massive ship — 129-feet (39-meters) long at its beam — with one leg pointed awkwardly skyward as rescuers searched the heaving water.

One crew member was found dead on the surface of the water, Watson said at a news conference Wednesday. Asked about the prospects of the missing crew, he said: “We are hopeful. We can’t do this work if you’re not optimistic, if you’re not hopeful.”

Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson III said time is critical in the rescue effort because “we have the potential for some rough weather around lunchtime.”

“The hope is that we can bring the other 12 home alive,” Chaisson said.

The search involved at least four Coast Guard vessels, four private ones and Coast Guard airplanes based in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama. A Coast Guard helicopter also was being used.

Relatives of the missing crew members rushed to the port from their homes nearby, seeking any information they could get, Chaisson said.

“We continue to pray for the … men who were on that vessel as well as their families,” Chaisson said.

The company that owns the ship, Houston-based Seacor Marine, set up a private hotline to share information with families of those onboard, Chaisson said. An employee who answered the phone Wednesday morning said he had no immediate information he could share.

The National Weather Service in New Orleans had advised of bad weather offshore, including a special marine warning issued before 4 p.m. Tuesday that predicted steep waves and winds greater than 50 knots (58 mph).

The Coast Guard received an emergency distress signal at 4:30 p.m. and issued an urgent marine broadcast that prompted multiple private vessels in the area to respond, saving four crew members, the agency said. Coast Guard crews rescued another two people.

Although the Coast Guard said the lift boat capsized during a microburst, a National Weather Service meteorologist said the system was more like an offshore derecho.

“This was not a microburst — just a broad straight-line wind event that swept over a huge area,” Phil Grigsby said.

He said the weather service’s nearest official gauge, at Grand Isle, showed about 30 minutes of 75 mph (120 km/h) winds, followed by hours of winds over 50 mph (80 km/h).

The initial storm system was followed by a low-pressure system called a wake low, which amplified the winds and made them last longer, Grigsby said. “It was the strongest wake low I’ve seen in almost 18 years here,” he said.

Capt. Ronald Dufrene said his offshore trawler, Mister Jug, was among the shrimp boats that struggled to survive.

“People who have been fishing 30, 40 years — the first time they put their life jackets on was yesterday. … I know three boats for sure said that,” Dufrene said.

He said the captain who was on board his boat told him seas rose 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 meters) and the wind gauge was lost at 80 mph (129 km/h), but a crewman told him later that he saw the gauge at 95 mph, “then the wind laid the pole over.”

The 95-mph (153 km/h) report can’t be taken as official, Grigsby said. “We don’t know how well-calibrated their instrument is. But it’s not outside the realm of probability,” he said.

Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost seaport, is a major base for the U.S. oil and gas industry, supporting most of Louisiana’s offshore platforms and drilling rigs.

The storm also overturned other vessels and damaged property from Louisiana’s shore up to New Orleans.

“Please join @FirstLadyOfLA and me in praying for those who remain missing after yesterday’s capsizing off the coast of Grand Isle and for those who are working to rescue them,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday on Twitter.

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The length of the capsized vessel has been corrected; it has a beam of 129 feet, not 265 feet.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans. McGill reported from New Orleans and Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia.

Minnesota cop will be charged in shooting of Black motorist

By SCOTT BAUER and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER for the Associated Press

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — A prosecutor said Wednesday that he will charge a white former suburban Minneapolis police officer with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a shooting that ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police.

The charge against former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter will be filed Wednesday, three days after Wright was killed during a traffic stop and as the nearby murder trial progresses for the ex-officer charged with killing George Floyd last May, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.

Flowers have been placed on a banner as demonstrators gather outside the Brooklyn Center (Minn.) Police Department on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, to protest Sunday’s fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The former Brooklyn Center police chief has said that Potter, a 26-year veteran and training officer, intended to use her Taser on Wright but fired her handgun instead. However, protesters and Wright’s family members say there’s no excuse for the shooting and it shows how the justice system is tilted against Blacks, noting Wright was stopped for expired car registration and ended up dead.

Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk or consciously takes chances to cause the death of a person.

Asked how he arrived at the charging decision, Orput said: “I think it’ll be evident when you read the complaint,” which was not yet available.

Potter, 48, was arrested Wednesday morning at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul. Her attorney did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press.

Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned Tuesday.

The Star Tribune reported that concrete barricades and tall metal fencing had been set up around Potter’s home in Champlin, north of Brooklyn Center, with police cars guarding the driveway. After Floyd’s death last year, protesters demonstrated several times at the home of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now on trial in Floyd’s death.

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Body camera video that Gannon released Monday shows Potter approaching Wright as he stands outside of his car as another officer is arresting him.

As Wright struggles with police, Potter shouts, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing a single shot from her handgun.

Wright family attorney Ben Crump said the family appreciates the criminal case, but he again disputed that the shooting was accidental, arguing that an experienced officer knows the difference between a Taser and a handgun.

“Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant,” he said.

Experts say cases of officers are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison after responding to a fight at a train station in Oakland, California, killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009. Mehserle testified at trial that he mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead of his stun gun.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white volunteer sheriff’s deputy, Robert Bates, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after accidentally firing his handgun when he meant to deploy his stun gun on Eric Harris, a Black man who was being held down by other officers in 2015.

Potter was an instructor with the Brooklyn Center police, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. She was training two other officers when they stopped Wright, the association’s leader, BIll Peters, told the Star Tribune.

In her one-paragraph letter of resignation, Potter said, “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said Tuesday that he hoped Potter’s resignation would “bring some calm to the community,” but that he would keep working toward “full accountability under the law.”

Police and protesters faced off again after nightfall Tuesday, with hundreds of demonstrators once more gathering at Brooklyn Center’s heavily guarded police headquarters, now ringed by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence, and where police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers stood watch.

About 90 minutes before a 10 p.m. curfew, state police announced over a loudspeaker that the gathering had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. That set off confrontations, with protesters launching fireworks toward the station and throwing objects at officers, who launched flashbangs and gas grenades, then marched in a line to force back the crowd.

State police said the dispersal order came before the curfew because protesters were trying to take down the fencing and throwing rocks at police. The number of protesters plummeted over the next hour, until only a few remained. Police also ordered all media to leave.

Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis, has seen its racial demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Hispanic.

Elliott said Tuesday that he didn’t have at hand information on the police force’s racial diversity but that “we have very few people of color in our department.”

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Bauer contributed from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writers Doug Glass and Mohamed Ibrahim in Minneapolis; Tim Sullivan in Brooklyn Center; and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright

Canary Islands hotel offers shelter to migrants in need

By RENATA BRITO for the Associated Press

PUERTO RICO DE GRAN CANARIA, Spain (AP) — When hotel director Calvin Lucock and restaurant owner Unn Tove Saetran said goodbye to one of the last groups of migrants staying in one of the seaside resorts they manage in Spain’s Canary Islands, the British-Norwegian couple didn’t know when they would have guests again.

They had initially lost their tourism clientele to the coronavirus pandemic, but then things had taken an unexpected turn.

A migrant leans on the balcony of the Holiday Club Puerto Calma hotel in Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, Spain, April 2, 2021. With hundreds of empty rooms, British hotel director Calvin Lucock and his Norwegian wife Unn Tove Saetran decided to reopen their doors at their own expense to provide food, shelter and care to young migrant men who fell out of the official reception and integration system. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

A humanitarian crisis was unfolding on the archipelago where tens of thousands of African men, women and children were arriving on rudimentary boats. The Spanish government — struggling to accommodate 23,000 people who disembarked on the islands in 2020 — contracted hundreds of hotel rooms left empty due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.

The deal not only helped migrants and asylum-seekers have a place to sleep, it also allowed Lucock to keep most of his hotel staff employed.

But the contract ended in February and thousands of people were transferred out of the hotels and into newly built large-scale migrant camps. Or so they thought.

“We realized that we had a queue of people standing outside when we closed the doors,” said Saetran, a former teacher, in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the Holiday Club Puerto Calma in southern Gran Canaria.

Some of the “boys,” as she calls them, had ended up on the streets after being expelled from government-funded reception centers. Others had chosen to leave the official system fearing overcrowded camps and forced returns to the countries they fled from. With the rooms still empty, Saetran said she couldn’t sleep knowing the migrants would be left on the street.

So they reopened the hotel doors again, this time at their own expense.

“They were very scared, they didn’t have anywhere to go, and there wasn’t any other solution,” said Saetran who has lived in the Canary Islands with Lucock since the ’90s and has a Spanish-born daughter.

Today, the family, with the help of some of the hotel staff and other volunteers, provide food through Saetran’s restaurant, shelter through the hotel and care to 58 young men, including eight unaccompanied minors, mainly from Morocco and Senegal as well as other West African countries, who fell out of the official migrant reception and integration system for one reason or another.

One of them is Fode Top, a 28-year-old Senegalese fisherman who left his country in search of better work in Europe last November. The fish in Senegal, he says, have disappeared from the ocean following years of industrial fishing by Chinese and European vessels. Nowadays one can hardly make a living being a fisherman.

To make matters worse, Top’s 3-year-old son needed life-saving and expensive heart surgery. To pay medical bills, Top borrowed money he wasn’t able to pay back, resulting in threats.

“If I return to Senegal I will have problems. Many problems,” Top said.

The official camps have also been plagued with problems, with reports of overcrowding, insufficient food, unsanitary conditions and lack of legal and medical assistance. Most recently, police intervened with rubber bullets in the largest camp on the island of Tenerife after a fight broke out between two groups of residents.

The Canary Islands and their year-round sunny beaches normally attract millions of northern European tourists each year. But for the migrants at Puerto Calma, staying in the hotel is no vacation. The islands were just meant to be a stepping stone toward stability, security and employment in continental Europe, not their final destination. Today, it is a place of limbo for thousands who were denied access to the Spanish peninsula and live in waiting, unable to work and send money back to their families.

“They’ve come here looking for a better life, one of the reasons I came to Spain,” said 47-year-old Lucock. There’s only one difference: “They are not born with a European passport so they can’t travel in the same way I can.”

On a recent evening, as they ate dinner, Saetran got a text message: Six young men, including alleged minors, had been sleeping in the streets of Las Palmas for days. She looked at her husband, who runs the hotel, for approval. He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath.

The next day, the six boys arrived at the hotel carrying their belongings in plastic bags. Saetran and Lucock welcomed them and gave them two rooms. Both of them know the hotel won’t be able to shelter migrants forever, but for now they have a place to sleep.

“If we can play a small part in making them feel safe and secure while they are here, then I feel like we’ve achieved something,” Lucock said.

As the men wait month after month to either move north or be returned south, Lucock and Saetran try to keep them busy. Volunteers come three times a week to give English and Spanish classes. The athletic ones play soccer on the beach or run up the mountain with locals. There’s also a lot of checkers and card games.

The couple says they hope to continue helping young migrants even after tourism kicks off again, and are setting up a charity.

“In our culture we have so much that we forget to appreciate the small things,” Saetran said.

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Pressure builds to fire Minnesota officer who killed Wright

By MOHAMED IBRAHIM and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER for the Associated Press

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — The pressure built Tuesday to fire the suburban Minneapolis police officer who killed a 20-year-old Black man during an altercation after a traffic stop, a shooting authorities said was a tragic mistake but that family members of Daunte Wright and others pointed to as yet the latest example of a broken criminal justice system.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called the shooting in his city “deeply tragic” and said the officer should be fired. Elliott, the city’s first Black mayor, announced Monday night that the City Council had fired the city manager and voted to give the mayor’s office “command authority” over the police force.

A demonstrator heckles authorities who advanced into a gas station after issuing orders for crowds to disperse during a protest against the police shooting of Daunte Wright, late Monday, April 12, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that justice is done and our communities are made whole,” Elliott said.

The city’s police chief has said he believes the officer, identified as 26-year-veteran Kim Potter, mistakenly grabbed her gun when she was going for her Taser. The officer, who is white, can be heard on her body camera video shouting “Taser! Taser!”

Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that he rejects that explanation.

“I lost my son. He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right. This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” he said.

Wright’s family planned to speak again Tuesday alongside the family of George Floyd at the courthouse where the trial is being held for a former Minneapolis police officer charged in his death. Protests erupted for a second night following Sunday’s shooting, heightening anxiety in an area already on edge as the Derek Chauvin trial progresses. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death. Potter was placed on administrative leave while the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates Wright’s death.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the police union, issued a statement Tuesday saying “no conclusions should be made until the investigation is complete.”

Police Chief Tim Gannon on Monday would not say whether Potter would be fired, saying she was entitled to due process.

“I think we can watch the video and ascertain whether she will be returning,” the chief said.

The advent of social media and body cameras has forced police departments to move much quickly than in the past, said Alex Piquero, chairman of the University of Miami’s sociology department. However, he said that before the Brooklyn Center Police Department fires the officer, it will likely review all evidence, including any other body camera footage and testimony from other officers, so that the dismissal is less vulnerable to any court challenge.

“We don’t know why she reached for her firearm instead of her Taser,” Piquero said.

Body camera footage Gannon released less than 24 hours after the shooting shows three officers around a stopped car, which authorities said was pulled over because it had expired registration tags. When one officer attempts to handcuff Wright, a second officer tells him he’s being arrested on a warrant. That’s when the struggle begins.

Potter can be heard saying: “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel. After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away and the officer is heard saying, “Holy (expletive)! I shot him.”

The car traveled several blocks before hitting another vehicle.

Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office.

Potter has experience with investigations into police shootings. Potter was one of the first officers to respond after Brooklyn Center police fatally shot a man who allegedly allegedly tried to stab an officer with a knife in August 2019, according to a report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.

After medics arrived, she told the two officers who shot the man to get into separate squad cars, turn off their body cameras, and not to speak to each other. She was also the police union president for the department and accompanied two other officers involved in the shooting while investigators interviewed them.

Court records show Wright was being sought after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Demonstrators began to gather shortly after the shooting, with some jumping atop police cars.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters gathered hours after a dusk-to-dawn curfew was announced by the governor. When protesters wouldn’t disperse, police began firing gas canisters and flash-bang grenades, sending clouds wafting over the crowd and chasing some protesters away. Forty people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said at a news conference early Tuesday. In Minneapolis, 13 arrests were made, including for burglaries and curfew violations, police said.

Brooklyn Center is a modest suburb just north of Minneapolis that has seen its demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Latino.

Wright’s death prompted protests in other U.S. cities, including in Portland, Oregon, where police said a demonstration turned into a riot Monday night, with some in the crowd throwing rocks and other projectiles at officers.

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Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Tim Sullivan in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

US recommends ‘pause’ for J&J vaccine over clot reports

By ZEKE MILLER, LAURAN NEERGAARD and MATTHEW PERRONE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots, a development that could jeopardize the rollout of vaccines around the world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were investigating unusual clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. The FDA commissioner said she expected the pause to last a matter of days.

FILE – In this Thursday, April 8, 2021 file photo, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain and occurred together with low platelets, the fragments in blood that normally form clots. All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died, and all of the cases remain under investigation.

More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been given in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects.

Any slowdown in the dissemination of the shots could have broad implications for the global vaccination effort. The J&J vaccine held particular promise for less affluent countries because its single-dose regimen and relatively simple storage requirements would make it easier to use in the developing world.

The FDA said the cases under investigation appear similar to unusual clots that European authorities say are possibly linked to another COVID-19 vaccine not yet cleared in the U.S., from AstraZeneca. European regulators have stressed that the AstraZeneca risk appears to be lower than the possibility of developing clots from birth control pills.

Federally run mass vaccination sites will pause the use of the J&J shot, and states and other providers are expected to follow. The other two authorized vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, make up the vast share of COVID-19 shots administered in the U.S. and are not affected by the pause.

“I’d like to stress these events appear to be extremely rare. However COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said at a news conference.

A CDC committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the cases, and the FDA has also launched an investigation into the cause of the clots and low platelet counts.

Authorities have not seen similar clots after use of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat said.

FDA officials emphasized that Tuesday’s action was not a mandate. Doctors and patients could still use J&J’s vaccine if they decide its benefits outweigh its risks for individual cases, said Dr. Peter Marks.

The agencies recommend that people who were given the J&J vaccine should contact their doctor is they experience severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks.

J&J said in a statement that it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established. The company also said it would delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe as a precaution.

U.S. health authorities cautioned doctors against using a typical clot treatment, the blood-thinner heparin. “In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous and alternative treatments need to be given,” the FDA and CDC said.

European authorities investigating the AstraZeneca cases have concluded clots appear to be similar to a very rare abnormal immune response that sometimes strikes people treated with heparin, leading to a temporary clotting disorder.

While it’s not clear yet if the reports among J&J recipients are related, doctors would treat these kinds of unusual clots like they treat people who have the heparin reaction — with different kinds of blood thinners and sometimes an antibody infusion, said Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a clot expert at the University of Michigan.

As authorities investigate whether the clots really are related to the J&J vaccine, Barnes stressed that Americans should get vaccinated as soon as possible using the other two available vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna.

“If you have a chance to get vaccinated with those, we strongly encourage it. The risks of COVID are real and they’re high,” Barnes said.

Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said 28 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available for states this week, more than enough to keep up the nation’s pace of 3 million shots a day despite the J&J pause.

Asked if the government was overreacting to six cases out of more than 6 million vaccinations, Schuchat said recommendations will come quickly.

Because these unusual clots require special treatment, “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out,” she said. “That said, the pandemic is quite severe and cases are increasing in lots of places and vaccination’s critical.”

States and cities swiftly moved to implement the pause. New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said people with Tuesday appointments for J&J vaccines at state-run mass vaccination clinics will instead get the Pfizer vaccine.

The city of Dallas had planned to begin an in-home vaccination program using the J&J vaccine for homebound or elderly people. The city said it will pause the program until more guidance is released.

The J&J vaccine received emergency use authorization from the FDA in late February with great fanfare. Yet the shot only makes up a small fraction of the doses administered in the U.S. J&J has been plagued by production delays and manufacturing errors at the Baltimore plant of a contractor.

Last week, the drugmaker took over the facility to scale up production in hopes of meeting its commitment to the U.S. government of providing about 100 million doses by the end of May.

Only about 9 million of the company’s doses have been delivered to states and are awaiting administration, according to CDC data.

Until now concern about the unusual blood clots has centered on the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which has not yet received authorization in the U.S. Last week, European regulators said they found a possible link between the shots and a very rare type of blood clot that occurs together with low blood platelets, one that seems to occur more in younger people.ADVERTISEMENT

The European Medicines Agency stressed that the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people. But several countries have imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine; Britain recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives.

But the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines are made with the same technology. Leading COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the spike protein that coats the outer surface of the coronavirus. But the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines use a cold virus, called an adenovirus, to carry the spike gene into the body. J&J uses a human adenovirus to create its vaccine while AstraZeneca uses a chimpanzee version.

U.S. stock markets initially dropped on the J&J news, but some indices were up slightly by late morning. Johnson & Johnson shares were down nearly 3 percent, an unusually big drop for the drug giant, with more shares changing hands in the first two hours than on an average day.

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Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus, Karen Matthews, Jill Bleed and Linda A. Johnson contributed to this report.

Iraq blames public for new virus record, urges vaccinations

For the Associated Press

Iraq’s Health Ministry has warned of “dire consequences” ahead because citizens are not heeding coronavirus prevention measures, after the country reached a new high in daily infection rates.

An Iraqi nurse prepares a shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraq recorded 8,331 new virus cases within a 24-hour period on Wednesday, the highest figure since the ministry began keeping records at the onset of the pandemic last year. That was double the number of new infections from last month, and well ahead of a previous peak of some 6,000 in March.

Death rates are still fairly low relative to new infections. At least 14,606 people have died, from a total of 903,439 cases.

The severe spike in case numbers prompted the Health Ministry to issue a grave warning in a statement on Thursday, saying the rise was due to laxity among Iraqis who flout preventative measures.

The statement said public commitment toward heeding virus prevention measures was “almost non-existent in most regions of Iraq,” where citizens rarely wear face masks and continue to hold large gatherings.

Those who continue to flout prevention measures and instructions “are responsible for the increase in the number of infections,” the statement said. It called on tribal sheikhs, activists and influential figures to speak out and inform the public on the severity of the pandemic.

Iraq began administering vaccines in late March, but rollout has been slow owing to low demand. Many Iraqis are suspicious of the vaccine and few have booked appointments to receive a dose. Rumors of debilitating side-effects have also put many off.

The ministry urged citizens to inoculate, and said vaccination was the only way to control the outbreak.

Monkey business: 2 dozen monkeys escape German zoo for a day

For the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — About two dozen monkeys broke out of a southwestern German zoo and spent the day lolling in the sun near a forest before being recaptured, authorities said Thursday.

The Barbary macaques, commonly known as Barbary apes, escaped from the zoo in Loeffingen, southwest of Stuttgart and not far from the Swiss border. It was not entirely clear how they got away, but construction work at the zoo might have been a factor, police said.

A welcome sign at Tatzmania Wildlife Park, leading to the entrance of the zoo, in Loffingen, Germany, Thursday, April 8, 2021. About two dozen monkeys have broken out of a southwestern German zoo and are roaming the area despite efforts to recapture them. The Barbary macaques, commonly known as Barbary apes, escaped from the zoo in Loeffingen, southwest of Stuttgart and not far from the Swiss border. (Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa via AP)

The primates were spotted roaming the area in a pack, but zoo employees were unable to recapture them and eventually lost track of them. A few hours later they were spotted, recaptured and returned to their cages without incident, police said.

“The animals apparently took advantage of the nice weather and spent the afternoon on the edge of a forest near the zoo,” police said.

The Barbary macaque is native to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and has a small but famous presence across the water in Europe in the British territory of Gibraltar.

Private sales emerge as obstacle to Senate action on guns

By MARY CLARE JALONICK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats in Congress are trying to pass the first major gun control legislation in more than two decades with the support of President Joe Biden, who said Thursday that it is “long past time” to do so. But they are confronting a potentially insurmountable question over what rules should govern private sales and transfers, including those between friends and extended family, as they seek Republican votes.

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, right, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, departs after speaking about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A bipartisan Senate compromise that was narrowly defeated eight years ago was focused on expanding checks to sales at gun shows and on the internet. But many Democrats and gun control advocates now want almost all sales and transfers to face a mandatory review, alienating Republicans who say extending the requirements would trample Second Amendment rights.

The dispute has been one of several hurdles in the renewed push for gun-control legislation, despite wide support for extending the checks. A small group of senators have engaged in tentative talks in the wake of recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Colorado, hoping to build on bipartisan proposals from the past. But support from at least 10 Republicans will be needed to get a bill through the Senate, and most are intractably opposed.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator on guns, said he’s been on the phone with Republican colleagues every day “making the case, cajoling, asking my friends to keep an open mind.” In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he’d discussed the negotiations personally with Biden on Thursday and that “he’s ready and willing to get more involved” in the talks.

“I think it’s important to keep the pressure on Congress,” Murphy said.

While pushing lawmakers to do more, Biden announced several executive actions to address gun violence, including new regulations for buyers of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms that usually are assembled from parts and often lack traceable serial numbers. Biden said Congress should act further to expand background checks because “the vast majority of the American people, including gun owners, believe there should be background checks before you purchase a gun.”

Still, the gulf between the two parties on private gun transactions, and a host of other related issues, has only grown since 2013, when Senate Democrats fell five votes short of passing legislation to expand background checks after a gunman killed 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. That defeat was a crushing blow to advocates who had hoped for some change, however modest, after the horrific attack.

The compromise legislation, written by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, flamed out again in 2016, after a mass shooting in Orlando.

Starting anew with Biden in the White House, Democrats are focused on legislation passed by the House that would expand background checks to most sales and increase the number of days a buyer has to wait if a background check is not finished. Murphy said there may not be an appetite to pass those House bills without changes, but after talking to most Republicans over the last several weeks he says he has “reason to believe there is a path forward.”

Under current law, background checks are required only when guns are purchased from federally licensed dealers. While there is agreement among some Republican lawmakers, and certainly among many GOP voters, for expanding the background checks, the issue becomes murkier when the sales are informal. Examples include if a hunter wants to sell one of his guns to a friend, for example, or to his neighbor or cousin — or if a criminal wants to sell a gun to another criminal.

Democrats say private sales can lead to gun trafficking.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that people engage in private sales but they do it constantly,” said California Rep. Mike Thompson, the lead sponsor of the House bill. “They could sell hundreds of guns a year, quote-unquote, privately.”

Republicans say that requiring a background check for a sale or transfer between people who know each other would be a bridge too far. Toomey says Democrats won’t get 60 votes if they insist upon it.

“Between the sales that already occur at licensed firearms dealers, all of which require a background check, and what we consider commercial sales — advertised sales, gun shows and on the internet — that covers a vast, vast majority of all transactions,” Toomey said. “And it would be progress if we have background checks for those categories.”

Manchin also opposes the House bill requiring the universal background checks. “I come from a gun culture,” Manchin said in March. “And a law-abiding gun owner would do the right thing, you have to assume they will do the right thing.”

Murphy hinted that Democrats might be willing to compromise somewhat on the scope, saying he is committed to universal background checks, but he won’t “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The House bill would apply background checks to almost all sales, with certain exceptions — including an inheritance or a “loan or bona fide gift” between close family members. Other exemptions include temporary transfers to people who need a firearm to prevent “imminent death” or are hunting.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise in 2013 included additional measures to lure support from Republicans and the National Rifle Association, which eventually opposed the bill. Those included an expansion of some interstate gun sales and a shorter period for background checks that weren’t completed — a deal-breaker for Democrats and gun control groups today.

Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady Campaign, said the advocacy groups “will not allow allow for gun industry carveouts to be part of the next piece of legislation that the Senate votes on.” The bill should be “fundamentally different” than eight years ago, he said, since their movement has “only grown in momentum and strength.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will bring gun legislation to the floor with or without 60 votes, but he has tasked Murphy with trying to reach a deal first. Murphy says that if they could win enough votes on the background checks bill, it could pave the way for even tougher measures like the assault weapons ban Biden has backed.

But most Republicans are unlikely to budge. And the NRA, while weakened by some infighting and financial disputes, is still a powerful force in GOP campaigns.

In a statement, the NRA said the House bills would restrict gun owners’ rights and “our membership has already sent hundreds of thousands of messages to their senators urging them to vote against these bills.”

Germany mulls possible order of Russian COVID-19 vaccine

By GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s health minister said Thursday that the European Union doesn’t plan to order Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine but his country will hold talks with Russia on whether an individual order makes sense.

News photographers take pictures as a medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said Thursday April 8, 2021, the European Union doesn’t plan to order Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine but will hold separate talks with Russia. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The EU’s executive Commission said Wednesday it won’t place orders for Sputnik V on member countries’ behalf, as it did with other manufacturers, Health Minister Jens Spahn told WDR public radio.

Spahn said he told his fellow EU health ministers that Germany, which has strongly backed joint EU orders, “will talk bilaterally to Russia, first of all about when it could come and in what quantities.” He said “to really make a difference in our current situation, the deliveries would have to come in the next two to four or five months already.”

Otherwise, he said, Germany would have “more than enough vaccine” already.

Amid a slow start to the vaccine rollout in Germany and across the EU, there have been calls from some German politicians — particularly at state level — to order Sputnik V.

Spahn underscored the German government’s position that, to be deployed in the country, Sputnik V must be cleared for use by the EMA and “for that, Russia must deliver data.” The EU regulator started a rolling review of the vaccine in early March.

Elsewhere in the EU, Hungary in February became the first country in the bloc to start using Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccine, neither of which has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicines regulator.

The government of Slovakia collapsed after its former prime minister orchestrated a secret deal to buy 2 million Sputnik V doses, despite disagreements with his coalition partners.

And Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria has said his country is in the closing stages of talks to possibly secure doses of Sputnik V. He has left open whether Austria could authorize its use before the EU approves it.

In Germany itself, two state governments are pushing ahead with tentative plans to secure doses of the Russian vaccine.

On Wednesday, Bavaria’s governor said his administration was signing a preliminary contract with a company that would allow it to get 2.5 million doses of Sputnik V, probably in July, if the shot is cleared by the EMA.

On Thursday, the health minister of the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Harry Glawe, said his state had secured an option for 1 million doses of Sputnik V. He argued that right now Germany has a “great dependency on too few manufacturers,” news agency dpa reported.

Germany is hoping to ramp up inoculations with the vaccines it already has, and many regular doctors’ practices joined the campaign this week. Official data showed that over 656,000 doses were administered on Wednesday, compared with at most around 367,000 per day previously.

That means 13.8% of Germany’s population of 83 million has now received at least one dose of vaccine, with 5.7% having received both doses.

Meanwhile, a top EU official indicated that he’s skeptical about rushing into orders for the Russian or Chinese vaccines.

Thierry Breton, who heads the EU Commission’s vaccine task force, said in a blog entry that he has “no reason to doubt the potential effectiveness, safety and quality of vaccines developed outside of the EU” but that is for the EMA to assess.

“Whenever I have been asked to comment on these vaccines, I have done so from an industrial perspective: Can they add to Europe’s portfolio of vaccines and add to our summer 2021 immunity target?” Breton wrote. “I’m afraid the answer is no.”

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UK infections drop about 60% amid vaccinations, lockdown

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The U.K.’s COVID-19 vaccination program is beginning to break the link between infection and serious illness or death, according to the latest results from an ongoing study of the pandemic in England.

A man walks past the National Covid Memorial Wall commemorating all those who have died of coronavirus, on the Thames Embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, April 8, 2021. Bereaved families want the wall of painted hearts to remain a site of national commemoration and are asking the Prime Minister to help make the memorial permanent. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Researchers at Imperial College London found that COVID-19 infections dropped about 60% in March as national lockdown measures slowed the spread of the virus. People 65 and older were the least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination program, which initially focused on older people.

The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, “suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.”

The positive news came amid renewed scrutiny of vaccinations that followed revised UK government guidance Wednesday that it will offer people under 30 an alternative inoculation to the AstraZeneca shot where possible. The change followed studies that the shot may be linked to very rare blood clots.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that the public should reassured by the abundance of caution demonstrated by authorities to make sure the vaccine rollout is as safe as possible.

“What we’ve learned in the last 24 hours is that the rollout of the vaccine is working, we’ve seen that the safety system is working, because the regulators can spot even this extremely rare event — four in a million — and take necessary action to ensure the rollout is as safe as it possible can be,″ he said. “And we are seeing that the vaccine is working. It’s breaking the link between cases and deaths.”

Some 31.7 million people had been given a first dose by Tuesday, or just over 60% of the country’s adult population.

But Imperial researchers also urged caution, saying that infection rates leveled off at the end of the study period as the government began to ease the national lockdown and children returned to school. Future rounds of the study will assess the impact that further easing of restrictions has on infection rates.

The next step in lifting England’s third national lockdown is scheduled for April 12, when nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.

The findings are based on data gathered by the 10th round of Imperial College’s Real-Time Assessment of Community Transmission study, which conducts swab tests on a random sample of people across England each month. The latest round tested more than 140,000 people from March 11 to March 30.

Even though Britain has had one of the world’s fastest vaccine rollouts, its death toll from the pandemic is the highest in Europe at over 127,000.

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N Ireland leaders call for calm after violence escalates

By PETER MORRISON and JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Crowds from Protestant and Catholic communities hurled bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs at police and each other overnight in Belfast, as a week of street violence escalated. Police and politicians tried Thursday to calm the volatile situation in Northern Ireland, where Britain’s exit from the European Union has unsettled an uneasy political balance.

Nationalists and Loyalists clash with one another at the peace wall on Lanark Way in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The police had to close roads into the nearby Protestant area as crowds from each divide attacked each other. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

The focus of the violence, some of it committed by youths in their early teens, was a concrete “peace wall” in west Belfast that separates a British loyalist Protestant neighborhood from an Irish nationalist Catholic area. The two sides clashed across the wall, while nearby a city bus was hijacked and set on fire.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said several hundred people gathered on both sides of a gate in the wall, where “crowds … were committing serious criminal offenses, both attacking police and attacking each other.”

Northern Ireland has seen sporadic outbreaks of street violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord ended the Troubles — decades of Catholic-Protestant bloodshed over the status of Northern Ireland in which more than 3,000 people died. But Roberts said Wednesday’s mayhem “was at a scale we have not seen in recent years.”

He said a total of 55 police officers had been injured over several nights of disorder and it was lucky no one had been seriously hurt or killed.

The recent violence, largely in loyalist, Protestant areas, has flared amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and worsening relations between the parties in the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing Belfast government. Britain’s split from the EU has renewed tensions over Northern Ireland’s status and disturbed the political balance in region, where some people identify as British and want to stay part of the U.K., while others see themselves as Irish and seek unity with the neighboring Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the unrest, saying “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”

Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based assembly and government held emergency meetings Thursday and called for an end to the violence.

First Minister Arlene Foster, of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, warned that “Northern Ireland faces deep political challenges ahead.”

“We should all know that when politics are perceived to fail, those who fill the vacuum cause despair,” said Foster, who heads the Northern Ireland government.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, called the violence “utterly deplorable.”

The latest disturbances followed unrest over the Easter long weekend in pro-British unionist areas in and around Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, that saw cars set on fire and projectiles and gasoline bombs hurled at police officers.

Authorities have accused outlawed paramilitary groups of inciting young people to cause mayhem.

Roberts, the senior police officer, said some adults stood clapping and cheering while children as young as 12 or 13 rampaged.

The situation in Northern Ireland has been destabilized by Britain’s departure from the EU — after almost 50 years of membership — that became final on Dec. 31.

A post-Brexit U.K.-EU trade deal has imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The arrangement was designed to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland because an open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process built on the Good Friday accord.

Unionists says the new checks amount to a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. — something they fear undermines the region’s place in the United Kingdom.

Both Britain and the EU have expressed concerns about how the agreement is working, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which heads the Belfast government, wants it to be scrapped.

Katy Hayward, a politics professor at Queen’s University Belfast and senior fellow of the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said unionists felt that “the union is very much under threat, that Northern Ireland’s place is under threat in the union and they feel betrayed by London.”

Unionists are also angry at a police decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican Army commander in June. The funeral of Bobby Storey drew a large crowd, despite coronavirus rules barring mass gatherings.

The main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of Northern Ireland’s police chief over the controversy, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

“You have a very fizzy political atmosphere in which those who are trying to urge for calm and restraint are sort of undermined,” Hayward said.

“It’s really easy to see how it could get worse,” she added. “There’s many factors, including, obviously, criminal gangs at work who benefit from chaos like this. … So that you could see how things can definitely escalate.”

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Lawless reported from London.

Merkel backs ‘short, uniform lockdown’ across Germany

By GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday threw her weight behind a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country grapples with a high level of coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of a more contagious variant first detected in Britain.

FILE – In this Wednesday, May 6, 2020 file photo Bavarian Governor Markus Soeder and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address the media during a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany. Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Merkel’s party, called this week for a vaguely defined 2-3 week “bridge lockdown” to control infections while Germany steps up a so-far slow vaccination campaign. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her weight behind calls for a ‘short, uniform lockdown’. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file, pool)

German state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting virus restrictions, have taken differing approaches lately. Some have continued to back limited reopening steps while others advocate a stricter shutdown.

Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Merkel’s conservative party, called this week for a vaguely defined 2-3 week “bridge lockdown” to control infections while Germany steps up a so-far slow vaccination campaign.

Laschet also called for a meeting between Merkel and governors to coordinate restrictions to be moved up from next Monday, but hit resistance from his colleagues. Merkel spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Wednesday there is “no majority” for that.

But Demmer said “every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right.” She said figures on new cases aren’t particularly good at the moment, because of lower testing and reporting over Easter, but a rapid rise in the number of occupied intensive care beds “speaks a very clear language.”

“Joint action would be desirable,” she stressed. “The diversity of the rules that have been agreed on isn’t contributing at the moment to safety and acceptance.”

Merkel and the 16 state governors confer every few weeks on coronavirus measures. Those sometimes sprawling and ill-tempered get-togethers have drawn increasing criticism, particularly as governors have frequently taken different approaches to implementing what they agree upon.

Last month, Merkel and the governors sparred for hours before announcing unexpected plans for a five-day Easter shutdown. Merkel then dumped the plans less than 36 hours later after concluding they were unworkable and apologized to Germans.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Sept. 26 general election is casting a shadow. Many have viewed the lockdown proposal from Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, as a result of speculation over whether he or Bavarian governor Markus Soeder will become the center-right candidate to succeed Merkel.

Laschet has often advocated allowing more businesses to open, and Merkel recently criticized his state for failing to keep to the rules that had been agreed upon. Soeder has consistently advocated tougher restrictions. At present, polls suggest that voters are considerably more impressed by Soeder. A decision on the candidate is expected by late May.

Soeder told ZDF television Tuesday that he and Merkel had always backed Laschet’s latest position, “and everyone who joins in, I think that’s great.”

Germany’s infection rate is currently lower than that of several neighboring countries, but it is still more than twice the maximum 50 new cases per 100,000 residents the government would like to see.

The country has recorded 2.9 million cases and 77,401 deaths from or with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. It has given a first vaccine dose to 13% of its total population of 83 million, while 5.6% have received two doses. Officials hope vaccinations will accelerate this month.

In addition to vaccines already ordered, Soeder said the Bavarian government plans to sign a preliminary contract Wednesday with a company in the town of Illertissen that would allow it to get 2.5 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, probably in July — if the shot is approved by the European Medicines Agency.

A Russian company, R-Pharm, plans to start producing the Sputnik V vaccine in Illertissen.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

As states expand vaccines, prisoners still lack access

By KATIE PARK and ARIEL GOODMAN of The Marshall Project and KIMBERLEE KRUESI of The Associated Press

This week, Florida expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older. But across the state, more than 70,000 people still don’t have access to the vaccine. Those men and women are Florida state prisoners.

Carrie Shipp shows a photo of her incarcerated 21-year-old son Matthew Shipp that she keep on her cell phone Friday, April 2, 2021, in Irving, Texas. Fewer than 20 percent of state and federal prisoners have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. Carrie Shipp said her son decided not to get vaccinated out of fear and distrust of prison medical staff. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

More than half the country has opened up vaccine eligibility, vastly expanding the ability for most Americans to get the shots, whatever their age or medical conditions. But inside prisons, it’s a different story: Prisoners, not free to seek out vaccines, still lack access on the whole.

Nationwide, less than 20% of state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In some states, prisoners and advocates have resorted to lawsuits to get access. And even when they are eligible, they aren’t receiving important education about the vaccine.

And it’s not just the prisoners. Public health experts widely agree that people who live and work in correctional facilities face an increased risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus. Since the pandemic first reached prisons in March 2020, about 3 in 10 prisoners have tested positive and 2,500 have died. Prisons are often overcrowded, with limited access to health care and protective gear, and populations inside are more likely to have preexisting medical conditions.

“This is about a public health strategy,” said Jaimie Meyer, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University. “If you want to see an end to the pandemic, you’ve got to vaccinate the people in the places where there are the largest clusters and the most cases.”

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This story is a collaboration between The Associated Press and The Marshall Project exploring the state of the prison system in the coronavirus pandemic. Keri Blakinger contributed reporting from the Marshall Project.

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In some facilities, basic supplies like soap and toilet paper have been scarce, and mask-wearing is inconsistently enforced among both prisoners and guards. Prisoners spend time in communal spaces, and open-bar cells do little to contain the virus. Prisoners describe entire dormitories being sick with COVID-19 symptoms.

Some prisoners hesitate to report symptoms out of fear they will be placed in solitary confinement and not receive proper care. Others report waiting days for medical care, sometimes being turned away or provided only with aspirin.ADVERTISEMENT

And the vaccine rollout has been uneven, despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states should prioritize corrections staff and people in prisons and jails. By the end of March, Arkansas and Florida had not yet begun vaccinating prisoners, while a few states say they have offered vaccination to every adult in their prisons. Eight states have not reported how many prisoners have been vaccinated.

In some states, vaccine supplies for prisons have been limited by infrastructure and by political demands. Even as more vaccines start to become available to corrections systems, prison officials, public health experts and prisoner advocates say there is widespread hesitancy among prisoners over receiving the vaccine.

According to the CDC, 40% of adults in the United States have gotten at least one vaccine shot, and President Joe Biden has promised that all Americans will be eligible for vaccination by May 1. But vaccination rates behind bars still trail the general population in two-thirds of states.

In Georgia, roughly 700 prisoners had been vaccinated by March 30, according to Department of Corrections spokesperson Joan Heath. That number, about 1.5% of the state’s prison population, is expected to jump by mid-April when the agency anticipates receiving 2,000 doses per week.

“Our goal is to ensure every offender in our custody is offered and receives a COVID vaccine,” she said, adding that the state is asking anyone with “incarcerated friends or loved ones, to encourage them to accept the vaccine when offered.”

Correction officials in Maine said they had just begun vaccinating “age-eligible residents,” with 125 prisoners, about 7% of the prison population, immunized by the end of March.

In Tennessee, prisoners had to wait months before they could begin receiving the lifesaving dose after an influential state advisory group determined that inoculating them too early could result in a “public relations nightmare” and “lots of media inquiries.” That decision came although some of the United States’ largest coronavirus clusters were inside Tennessee’s prisons, with hundreds of active cases in multiple facilities.

Tennessee’s top health officials eventually announced in March that some in the prison population could get the vaccine if they qualified by age or had certain health conditions.

To date, about one-third of Tennessee prisoners have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began to spread. More than 40 have died.

By April 5, more than 6,900 prisoners — out of roughly 19,400 in the state — had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Starting Monday, Tennessee began to allow all residents 16 and older to receive the vaccine, meaning the remaining state prisoners would be eligible.

In some states, prisoners and advocates have resorted to lawsuits to speed up the pace of vaccinations. In February, a federal judge ordered Oregon officials to offer the vaccine to all state prisoners, which the state says it has now done. Washington state prisoners filed a similar lawsuit in late March, demanding additional protection from correctional staff who refused the vaccine. Last week, a New York Supreme Court justice ruled that that state must vaccinate all people incarcerated in prisons and jails.

Texas vaccinated its first 600 prisoners only because of an accident. After a freezer problem at the Darrington Unit left unrefrigerated hundreds of doses meant for correctional officers, officials offered the vaccine first to staff and then to high-risk prisoners to avoid the doses going to waste.

Vaccine availability is not the only factor corrections officials must grapple with to get shots in arms. Carrie Shipp, whose 21-year-old son Matthew is incarcerated at Ruben M. Torres Unit in Texas, said her son decided not to get vaccinated out of fear and distrust of prison medical staff. Shipp’s son encouraged her and her daughter to be vaccinated, but he does not want to receive the vaccine himself.

“It’s not like he doesn’t believe in science, he’s just fearful of what they might do to him, what they might give him,” Shipp said. “To have your child, someone you took care of, be afraid of something that would protect them. … I will lose sleep over it.”

In a Marshall Project survey of 136 prisoners earlier this year, many respondents expressed a deep distrust of prison medical systems, citing misinformation spread by staff and previous experiences of not receiving care.

Among the public, information about the COVID-19 vaccine has been publicized by news media, government officials and health care providers. But prisoners seeking such information must rely on limited news sources, personal correspondence and corrections staff, who prisoners say are not always willing to answer questions.

State prisons in Tennessee have displayed posters, distributed informational sheets and held town hall meetings among the prisoners to discuss the vaccine rollout. The Department of Corrections plans to “circle back” to the more than 3,100 prisoners who have refused the vaccine so far, said agency spokesperson Dorinda Carter.

Some prisoners in Georgia said they didn’t receive information about the vaccine until they were asked to sign a form indicating whether they wanted to receive it. Fifty-one-year-old Michael McCoy, who is serving a 50-year sentence in Autry State Prison, said a staff member came to his dorm and put the consent forms on a table in the middle of the room.

“She said, ‘I’ve got 96 vaccine forms. I need 96 signatures. Right now!’”

But when prisoners began to ask questions, McCoy said, “she refused to answer anything. She might not have known.”

Heath, the spokesperson for Georgia’s Department of Corrections, said prisoners received information printed from the CDC website, but she did not respond to questions about whether it was available before they received vaccination consent forms.

Shannon Ross is working with medical experts to fill information gaps through his newsletter, The Community, which he distributes to prisoners in Wisconsin and some federal facilities. Ross, who was released from prison in September, said it is crucial to involve prisoners in the development of informational materials because they have unique concerns and are more likely to trust information from people who have experienced incarceration.

He said the state correction departments have some information, “but they don’t really hit home at a lot of the doubts and concerns and the breadth of issues that are popping up with this vaccine,” Ross said. “There’s no commentary from people who are out here that are respected in fighting the system, to say, ‘I’ve gotten it, I trust it.’”

Because many states have yet to vaccinate the majority of their prison populations, the actual magnitude of vaccine hesitancy among prisoners is not yet clear.

Marc Stern, a correctional health consultant and professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, did a survey of prisoners and those in jail late last year and found only 45% willing to get vaccinated. He said the potential for low vaccine acceptance could amplify existing inequities in prisoner health. Black people make up a disproportionately large segment of the prison population and people with severe COVID-19 outcomes, and his survey found that 37% of Black respondents were willing to receive the vaccine compared to 45% of all respondents.

On a brighter side, the four states that say they have offered the vaccine to every adult in their state prisons — Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia — have seen more prisoners take it, averaging about 70%. Meyer said that was a positive sign, but likely to be lower in many other states.

“In many prisons … the annual uptake of a flu vaccine is around 30%,” Meyer said. “Now you throw in that this is a newly developed technology that people may or may not have lots of information about, you have to anticipate that uptake might be as low as 30%.”

Complicating the equation are concerns about prison staff refusing vaccines in high numbers. Unlike prisoners, staff can receive vaccines from providers other than the corrections department, which can make staff levels difficult to track. Staff vaccination is particularly important, said Monik Jiménez, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, because employees can travel between prisons and the outside community. She stressed that both staff and prisoners need high vaccine coverage in order to effectively reduce COVID-19 transmission.

“When you have a place with high rates of transmission, then the vaccine has to work even harder,” Jiménez said. “You need more people vaccinated.”

To encourage prisoners to receive the vaccine, some states have turned to incentives, ranging from $25 in commissary credit in Pennsylvania, to “a little bag of Famous Amos cookies” in Mississippi.

In Georgia, McCoy says that he and his dorm mates felt belittled when the warden announced that anyone who opted to take the vaccine would be rewarded with a “warden’s pack,” which usually includes an assortment of chips, cakes and candy.

“Instead of with confidence and trust, you’re going to bribe them with cookies and chips?” McCoy said. “What does he think we are?”

Jill Biden announces next steps for military family program

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden is bringing a new focus to the cause of supporting America’s military families.

The first lady on Wednesday announced the next chapter for a decade-old military family support program she and then-first lady Michelle Obama led during the Obama administration.

Biden said that military families are as important to the nation as a rudder is to a ship and that national security will be served by supporting their physical, social and emotional health.

First lady Jill Biden speaks at a virtual event with military families from around the world as part of the White House initiative to support military and veteran families in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“How can we hope to keep our military strong if we don’t give our families, survivors and caregivers what they need to thrive? If we don’t act on our sacred obligation?” she asked at the White House.

Biden said her relaunch of the Joining Forces initiative will focus on employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for military families, education for the more than 2 million children of enlisted parents and veterans, and the overall health and well-being of these families.

She noted that just 1% of the country serves in the all-volunteer military. She also cited a Defense Department estimate of a 22% unemployment rate for military spouses.

“Service members cannot be focused on their mission if their families don’t have what they need to thrive at home,” said the first lady, who is the daughter and mother of service members. “And we can’t expect to keep the best and brightest if our service members are forced to choose between their love of country and the hopes and dreams they have for their families.”

“We have to help you carry this weight,” the first lady added. She cited commitments from the defense, education and labor departments.

The first lady was joined virtually at Wednesday’s event by U.S. military families, advocates and others from around the world, a total of more than 100 people appearing in individual boxes on screens behind her on the stage. Afterward, she planned to tour the Military OneSource call center, a Defense Department operation that provides 24/7 support to service members and their families.

Biden spent her opening weeks as first lady conducting listening sessions with the spouses of senior Defense Department officials and military leaders, military family advocates and military children. Last month, she toured U.S. military bases in Washington state and California, where she met with military families and children.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, she promised to revive Joining Forces. Shortly before President Joe Biden took office, the first lady named Rory Brosius as the initiative’s executive director. Brosius previously served as the program’s deputy director.

Jill Biden’s father was a Navy signalman in World War II who went to college on the GI Bill. Her late son, Beau, a father of two children, served in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a year in Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.

Biden’s other causes are education — she is a longtime English professor at a community college — and cancer research.

Joining Forces began in 2011 under President Barack Obama’s administration and was led by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, when Joe Biden was vice president. The mission was to encourage the public and private sectors to support service members, veterans, their families and their caregivers. The program focused on education, employment and wellness.

After leaving the White House in 2017, Jill Biden continued working with military families through the Biden Foundation.

The Trump administration kept the focus on military issues and care for veterans, including increasing the military spending. Former first lady Melania Trump and Karen Pence, the wife of former Vice President Mike Pence, worked on military family issues but without the Joining Forces banner.

Capitol officer remembered for humor, paying ultimate price

By KEVIN FREKING for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 18-year U.S. Capitol Police veteran killed in the line of duty is being remembered as a man with a sense of humor who loved baseball and golf and was most proud of one particular title: Dad.

This image provided by the U.S. Capitol Police shows U.S. Capitol Police officer William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran who was a member of the department’s first responders unit. Evans was killed Friday, April 2, 2021, after a man rammed a car into two officers at a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife. (U.S. Capitol Police via AP)

William “Billy” Evans, 41, was killed Friday when a vehicle rammed into Evans and another officer at a barricade just 100 yards from the Capitol. The driver, Noah Green, 25, came out of the car with a knife and was shot to death by police, officials said. Investigators believe Green had been delusional and increasingly having suicidal thoughts. Capitol Police released few personal details about Evans, saying his family had requested privacy.

Evans, a father of two, grew up in North Adams, Massachusetts, a close-knit town of about 13,000 in the northwest part of the state.

Jason LaForest knew Evans for more than 30 years. He was a close friend of Evans’ older sister, Julie, and recalled Evans as a prankster who made sure the subjects of his jokes laughed as well.

“As a young kid, Billy, of course, was the annoying little brother of one of my best friends, a title which he held on to for most of his life,” said LaForest, a North Adams city councilman. “But it was a joy to watch him grow up and become a talented athlete and a dedicated police officer, and, of course, the role in life that he loved the most, which was a dad.”

Sports, particularly baseball, was another important part of Evans’ life.

“He came from a long line of family members that loved baseball and especially the Boston Red Sox,” LaForest said. “He excelled in baseball and enjoyed playing baseball most of his life. It’s a passion that he instilled in his children.”

Evans’ father, Howard, died about seven years ago. His mother, Janice, still lives in Massachusetts.

He attended Western New England University, graduating in 2002 as a criminal justice major. He joined the Capitol Police the next year.

Robert E. Johnson, the university’s president, said in a statement that Evans was a member of the school’s baseball and bowling teams and the campus activities board. He said that Evans’ friends at the university described him as “extremely welcoming and friendly, humble, and always willing to help others.”

John Claffey, a professor of criminal justice, said that when news of Evans’ death first aired, he had the sense that he knew that smile. “I immediately said that’s a face I recognize,” Claffey said.

He recalled Evans as a student who knew what he wanted to do — a “very focused kid.”

Over the weekend, Claffey received four calls from former students who just wanted to talk to him about Evans.

“This has shaken a lot of people’s worlds,” he said. “A lot of people from Western New England, who haven’t been here in 18 years, it’s still having an impact on them.”

The death of Evans came nearly three months after the Jan. 6 rioting at the Capitol that left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. He died a day after the insurrection.

Lawmakers issued a wave of statements offering their condolences and gratitude to Evans after the attack. Capitol Hill aides and members of the press corps that cover Capitol Hill also weighed in, recalling him as friendly and professional.

LaForest said Evans never wanted to be known as a hero.

“He wanted to serve his country as a Capitol police officer and looked forward to seeing lawmakers and visitors who came to the Capitol every day, many of whom became friends of Billy’s in large part because of his good-natured sense of humor,” LaForest said. “And, unfortunately, Billy paid the ultimate price defending his country.”

Florida dismisses 2nd breach risk at phosphate reservoir

By CURT ANDERSON for the Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Engineers and dam safety specialists evaluating the danger of a catastrophic flood from a leaking Florida wastewater reservoir determined that the threat of a possible second breach was “unsubstantiated,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, addresses the media Monday, April 5, 2021 about the crisis at the former Piney Point phosphate plant, along with Manatee County officials. (Zachary T. Sampson/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Officials had said Monday that a drone discovered a possible second breach in the reservoir, whose east wall continues to show “concentrated seepage.” But by Monday evening, experts from four government agencies and outside engineers concluded that this second site was safe to continue working on, the agency announced.

Meanwhile, the agency said dozens of pumps and 10 vacuum trucks have been deployed to remove 35 million gallons (132 million liters) of wastewater per day into the Tampa Bay estuary, where 11 different sampling operations are monitoring water quality and considering ways of minimizing algae blooms that kill marine life and make beachgoing hazardous to humans in the tourism-dependent state.

“All water quality information concludes that this water is NOT radioactive,” the agency tweeted.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, toured the area by helicopter Monday and said federal resources were committed to assisting the effort to control the 77-acre (33-hectare) Piney Point reservoir in Manatee County, just south of the Tampa Bay area.

Among those are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Buchanan said at a news conference.

“I think we are making some progress,” Buchanan said. “This is something that has been going on too long. Now, I think everybody is focused on this.”

Fears of a complete breach at an old phosphate plant led authorities to evacuate more than 300 homes, close portions of a major highway and move several hundred jail inmates nearby to a second floor of the facility.

The primary concern is that a total breach of the reservoir would cause major flooding to nearby homes and businesses, officials said. The pumps are meant to slowly drain the water and divert it to Tampa Bay, which could lead to negative environmental consequences such as fish kills and algae blooms.

Melissa Fitzsimmons lives with her husband and 19-month-old daughter in Palmetto, Florida, on the edge of the evacuation zone. Fitzsimmons said that for the past four days she has been terrified since she found out about the leak. While her house is on a hill and may not be directly affected by the water if the leak continues to grow, Fitzsimmons said her family is preparing for the worst.

“Within 24 hours it escalated to like a catastrophic evacuation, and we really didn’t know anything until we saw that there was an evacuation and then suddenly an evacuation within the block of our house,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re not in the full on evacuation zone so we didn’t make the decision to leave, but we are certainly ready to go, I would say within like a 10-second notice, we can be out the door.”

Scott Hopes, the Manatee County administrator, said the additional pumps should increase the capacity for controlled wastewater releases to as much as 100 million gallons (379 million liters) a day.

“This has become a very focused local, state and national issue,” Hopes said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily salt water mixed with wastewater and storm water. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.

The ponds sit in stacks of phosphogypsum, a solid radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer. State authorities say the water in the breached pond is not radioactive.

Still, the EPA says too much nitrogen in the wastewater causes algae to grow faster, leading to fish kills. Some such blooms can also harm humans who come into contact with polluted waters, or eat tainted fish.

The Piney Point reservoir, and others like it storing the phosphogypsum byproduct, have been left unaddressed for far too long, environmental groups say.

“This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact it was entirely foreseeable and preventable,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than 1 billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now.”

Dale Rucker, a hydrologist and former editor of the Journal of Environmental and Engineering Geophysics, says the leak is a reminder that governments need to pay attention to aging infrastructure that could endanger the environment and put communities at serious risk.

“Continued neglect can have serious environmental consequences like we are seeing,” Rucker said. “These environmental catastrophes are going to happen with higher probability.”

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Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Lincon in Miami and Anila Yoganathan in Atlanta contributed to this story.

Police chief: Fired cop broke policy in pinning Floyd

By AMY FORLITI, STEVE KARNOWSKI and TAMMY WEBBER for the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis police chief who called George Floyd’s death “murder” soon after it happened testified that Officer Derek Chauvin had clearly violated department policy when he pinned Floyd’s neck beneath his knee for more than 9 minutes.

In this image from video, witness Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testifies as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, April 5, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Continuing to kneel on Floyd’s neck once he was handcuffed behind his back and lying on his stomach was “in no way, shape or form” part of department policy or training, “and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Monday on Day Six of Chauvin’s murder trial.

Arradondo, the city’s first Black chief, fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s death last May, and in June called it “murder.”

While police have long been accused of closing ranks to protect fellow members of the force charged with wrongdoing — the “blue wall of silence,” as it’s known — some of the most experienced officers in the Minneapolis department have taken the stand to openly condemn Chauvin’s treatment of Floyd.

As jurors watched in rapt attention and scribbled notes, Arradondo testified not only that Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, should have let Floyd up sooner, but that the pressure on Floyd’s neck did not appear to be light to moderate, as called for under the department’s neck-restraint policy; that Chauvin failed in his duty to render first aid before the ambulance arrived; and that he violated policy requiring officers to de-escalate tense situations with no or minimal force if they can.

“That action is not de-escalation,” the police chief said. “And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about our principles and the values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we are talking about.”

Arradondo’s testimony came after the emergency room doctor who pronounced Floyd dead said he theorized at the time that Floyd’s heart most likely stopped because of a lack of oxygen.

Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, who was a senior resident on duty that night at Hennepin County Medical Center and tried to resuscitate Floyd, took the stand as prosecutors sought to establish that it was Chauvin’s knee on the Black man’s neck that killed him.

Langenfeld said Floyd’s heart had stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital. The doctor said that he was not told of any efforts at the scene by bystanders or police to resuscitate Floyd but that paramedics told him they had tried for about 30 minutes and that he tried for another 30 minutes.

Under questioning by prosecutors, Langenfeld said that based on the information he had, it was “more likely than the other possibilities” that Floyd’s cardiac arrest — the stopping of his heart — was caused by asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death May 25. The white officer is accused of pressing his knee into the 46-year-old man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, outside a corner market where Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes.

Floyd’s treatment by police was captured on widely seen bystander video that sparked protests around the U.S. that descended into violence in some cases.

The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death.

Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, asked Langenfeld whether some drugs can cause hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen. The doctor acknowledged that fentanyl and methamphetamine, both of which were found in Floyd’s body, can do so.

The county medical examiner’s office ultimately classified Floyd’s death a homicide — a death caused by someone else.

The report said Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” A summary report listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” but not under “cause of death.”

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher noted that while some people may become more dangerous under the influence of drugs or alcohol, some may actually be “more vulnerable.” Arradondo agreed and acknowledged that this must also be taken into consideration when officers decide to use force.

Before he was pinned to the ground, a frantic Floyd struggled with police who were trying to put him in a squad car, saying he was claustrophobic.

Arradondo said officers are trained in basic first aid, including chest compressions, and department policy requires them to request medical assistance and provide necessary aid as soon as possible before paramedics arrive.

“We absolutely have a duty to render that,” he said.

Officers kept restraining Floyd — with Chauvin kneeling on his neck, another kneeling on Floyd’s back and a third holding his feet — until the ambulance got there, even after he became unresponsive, according to testimony and video footage.

The officers also rebuffed offers of help from an off-duty Minneapolis firefighter who wanted to administer aid or tell officers how to do it.

Langenfeld testified that for people who go into cardiac arrest, there is an approximately 10% to 15% decrease in survival for every minute that CPR is not administered.

Nelson noted on cross-examination that department policies direct officers to do what is reasonable in a given situation. He asked whether officers need to take the actions of a crowd into account, and Arradondo agreed. Nelson has suggested that onlookers — many of whom were shouting at Chauvin — might have affected officers’ response.

Nelson also questioned whether Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, playing a few seconds of bystander video side-by-side with footage from an officer’s body camera that Arradondo agreed appeared to show Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s shoulder blade.

But prosecutors quickly got Arradondo to note that the clip played by Nelson depicted only the few seconds before Floyd was moved onto a stretcher.

Minneapolis police Inspector Katie Blackwell, commander of the training division at the time of Floyd’s death, also took the stand Monday.

She said Chauvin, whom she’s known for about 20 years, received annual training in defensive tactics and use of force, and would have been trained to use one or two arms — not his knee — in a neck restraint.

“I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is,” she said, after being shown a photo of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck.

She said Chauvin also was a field-training officer, receiving additional training so he would know what prospective officers were learning in the academy.

The city moved soon after Floyd’s death to ban police chokeholds and neck restraints. Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey also made several policy changes, including expanded reporting of use-of-force incidents and attempts to de-escalate situations.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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Webber reported from Fenton, Mich.

Medics despair as France’s ‘third way’ virus strategy flails

By ANGELA CHARLTON for the Associated Press

AMIENS, France (AP) — As France battles a new virus surge that many believe was avoidable, intensive care nurse Stephanie Sannier manages her stress and sorrow by climbing into her car after a 12-hour shift, blasting music and singing as loud as she can.

Medical workers tend to a patient affected with the COVID-19 in the Amiens Picardie hospital Tuesday, March 30, 2021 in Amiens, 160 km (100 miles) north of Paris. France is now facing a deadly new surge of the virus that is overwhelming many hospitals, as critics accuse the government of ignoring warning signs and favoring political concerns over public health. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

“It allows me to breathe,” she says, “and to cry.”

People with COVID-19 occupy all the beds in her ICU ward in President Emmanuel Macron’s hometown hospital in the medieval northern city of Amiens. Three have died in the past three days. The vast medical complex is turning away critically ill patients from smaller towns nearby for lack of space.

With France now Europe’s latest virus danger zone, Macron on Wednesday ordered temporary school closures nationwide and new travel restrictions. But he resisted calls for a strict lockdown, instead sticking broadly to his strategy, a “third way” between freedom and confinement meant to keep both infections and a restless populace under control until mass vaccinations take over.

The government refuses to acknowledge failure and blames delayed vaccine deliveries and a disobedient public for soaring infections and saturated hospitals. Macron’s critics blame arrogance at the highest levels. They say France’s leaders ignored warning signs and favored political and economic calculations over public health — and lives.

“We feel this wave coming very strongly,” said Romain Beal, a blood oxygen specialist at the Amiens-Picardie Hospital. “We had families where we had the mother and her son die at the same time in two different ICU rooms here. It’s unbearable.”

The hospital’s doctors watched as the variant ravaging Britain jumped the Channel and forged south across France. Just as in Britain, the variant is now driving ever-younger, ever-healthier patients into French emergency rooms and ICUs. Amiens medics did their best to prepare, bringing in reinforcements and setting up a temporary ICU in a pediatric wing.

After Britain’s death toll shot higher in January, after new variants slammed European countries from the Czech Republic to Portugal, France continued vaunting its “third way.”

French scientists’ projections — including from the government’s own virus advisory body — predicted trouble ahead. Charts from national research institute Inserm in January and again in February forecast climbing virus hospitalization rates in March or April. Worried doctors urged preventative measures beyond those that were already in place — a 6 p.m. nationwide curfew and the closure of all restaurants and many businesses.

Week after week, the government refused to impose a new lockdown, citing France’s stable infection and hospitalization rates, and hoping that they would stay that way. Ministers stressed the importance of keeping the economy afloat and protecting the mental health of a populace worn down by a year of uncertainty. A relieved public granted Macron a boost in the polls.

But the virus wasn’t finished. The nationwide infection rate has now doubled over the past three weeks, and Paris hospitals are bracing for what could be their worst battle yet, with ICU overcrowding forecast to surpass what happened when the pandemic first crashed over Europe.

Acknowledging the challenges, Macron on Wednesday announced a three-week nationwide school closure, a month-long domestic travel ban and the creation of thousands of temporary ICU beds. He also promised personnel reinforcements.

While other European countries imposed their third lockdowns in recent months, Macron said that by refusing to do so in France, “we gained precious days of liberty and weeks of schooling for our children, and we allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their heads above water.”

At the same time, France has lost another 30,000 lives to the virus this year. It has also reported more virus infections overall than any country in Europe, and it has one of the world’s highest death tolls — 95,640 lives lost.

Macron’s refusal to order a lockdown frustrates people like Sarah Amhah, visiting her 67-year-old mother in the Amiens ICU.

“They’ve managed this badly all along,” she said, recalling government missteps a year ago around masks and tests and decrying logistical challenges around getting a vaccine for elderly relatives. While she’s still proud of France’s world-renowned health care system, she’s ashamed of her government. “How can we trust them?”

Pollsters note growing public frustration in recent days with the government’s hesitancy to crack down, and the potential impact of Macron’s current decisions on next year’s presidential campaign landscape.

Macron last week defended his decision not to confine the country Jan. 29, a moment epidemiologists say could have been a turning point in France’s battle to prevent surge No. 3. “There won’t be a mea culpa from me. I don’t have remorse and won’t acknowledge failure,” he said.

Instead of emulating European neighbors whose strategies are bringing infections down — like Britain, which is now starting to open up after a firm three-month lockdown — French government officials dodge questions about the growing death toll by comparing their country to places where the situation is even worse.

At the Amiens ICU, things are already bad enough.

“We have the impression that the population is doing the opposite of what they should be doing,” nurse Sannier said, before heading off on her rounds. “And we have the feeling we are working for nothing.”

Intern Oussama Nanai acknowledged that the drumbeat of grim virus numbers has left many people feeling numb, and he urged everyone to visit an ICU to put a human face to the figures.

“There are ups and downs every day … Yesterday afternoon I couldn’t do it anymore. The patient in (room) 52 died, and the patient in (room) 54,” he said.

But sometimes their work pays off. “Two people who were in the most serious condition for 60 days left on their own two feet, and they sent us photos,” he said. “That boosts our morale and makes us realize that what we are doing is useful.”

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

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Looie Lookout: Police seek to recover minor league mascot

From the Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Police are asking “Where’s Looie?” after a minor league baseball team in Tennessee reported its team mascot was stolen from its ballpark.

The Chattanooga Lookouts told authorities that the costume of its mascot Looie was stolen from an office at AT&T Field on Tuesday, according to a Facebook post from Chattanooga police. The Lookouts said hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise and equipment were also stolen.”

Looie’s head looks like a big red baseball cap, with a black brim for a nose. Police are asking the public for any tips on the costume’s whereabouts, saying callers can remain anonymous. Anyone with tips can call (423) 698-2525.

The Lookouts kick off their season at home on May 4.

Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine protects younger teens

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and MATTHEW PERRONE for the Associated Press

Pfizer announced Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall.

Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic — and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.

In this Dec. 22, 2020, photo, provided by Richard Chung, his son Caleb Chung receives the first dose of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine or placebo as a trial participant for kids ages 12-15, at Duke University Health System in Durham, N.C. Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12. The announcement Wednesday, March 31, 2021 marks a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before the next school year. (Richard Chung via AP)

In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported.

It’s a small study, that hasn’t yet been published, so another important piece of evidence is how well the shots revved up the kids’ immune systems. Researchers reported high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, somewhat higher than were seen in studies of young adults.

Kids had side effects similar to young adults, the company said. The main side effects are pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose. The study will continue to track participants for two years for more information about long-term protection and safety.

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of Boston College said the results are encouraging.

“It’s hard to get kids to comply with masking and distancing, so something that gives them hard protection and takes them out of the mix of spreading the virus is all for the good,” said Landrigan , who was not involved in the study.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in the coming weeks plan to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European regulators to allow emergency use of the shots starting at age 12.

“We share the urgency to expand the use of our vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. He expressed “the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year” in the United States.

Pfizer isn’t the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Results also are expected by the middle of this year from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds.

But in a sign that the findings were promising, the FDA already allowed both companies to begin U.S. studies in children 11 and younger, working their way to as young as 6-month-old.

“We are longing for a normal life. This is especially true for our children,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

AstraZeneca last month began a study of its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds in Britain. Johnson & Johnson is planning its own pediatric studies. And in China, Sinovac recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.

While most COVID-19 vaccines being used globally were first tested in tens of thousands of adults, pediatric studies won’t need to be nearly as large. Scientists have safety information from those studies and from subsequent vaccinations in millions more adults.

One key question is the dosage: Pfizer gave the 12-and-older participants the same dose adults receive, while testing different doses in younger children.

It’s not clear how quickly the FDA would act on Pfizer’s request to allow vaccination starting at age 12. The agency has taken about three weeks to review and authorize each of the vaccines currently available for adults. That process included holding a public meeting of outside experts to review and vote on the safety and effectiveness of each shot.

The process for reviewing data in children could be shorter, given FDA’s familiarity with each vaccine. An agency spokeswoman said the FDA had no information to share on how the review would work, including whether additional public meetings would be required.

Another question is when the country would have enough supply of shots — and people to get them into adolescents’ arms — to let kids start getting in line.

Supplies are set to steadily increase over the spring and summer, at the same time states are opening vaccinations to younger, healthier adults who until now haven’t had a turn.

Children represent about 13% of COVID-19 cases documented in the U.S. And while children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill, at least 268 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone and more than 13,500 have been hospitalized, according to a tally by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s more than die from the flu in an average year. Additionally, a small number have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to the coronavirus.

Caleb Chung, who turns 13 later this week, agreed to volunteer after his father, a Duke University pediatrician, presented the option. He doesn’t know if he received the vaccine or a placebo.

“Usually I’m just at home doing online school and there’s not much I can really do to fight back against the virus,” Caleb said in a recent interview. The study “was really somewhere that I could actually help out.”

His father, Dr. Richard Chung, said he’s proud of his son and all the other children volunteering for the needle pricks, blood tests and other tasks a study entails.

“We need kids to do these trials so that kids can get protected. Adults can’t do that for them,” Chung said.

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AP video journalist Federica Narancio contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Suspect in attack on Asian American woman in NYC is arrested

By MICHAEL R. SISAK for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A parolee convicted of killing his mother nearly two decades ago was arrested on charges including felony assault as a hate crime for attacking an Asian American woman near New York City’s Times Square, police said early Wednesday.

This image taken from surveillance video provided by the New York City Police Department shows a person of interest in connection with an assault of an Asian American woman, Monday, March 29, 2021, in New York. The NYPD is asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the man. (Courtesy of New York Police Department via AP)

Police said Brandon Elliot, 38, is the man seen on video kicking and stomping the woman on Monday. They said Elliot was living at a hotel that serves as a homeless shelter a few blocks from the scene of the attack.

Elliot, who is Black, was convicted of stabbing his mother to death in the Bronx in 2002, when he was 19. He was released from prison in 2019 and is on lifetime parole.

He faces charges of assault as a hate crime, attempted assault as a hate crime, assault and attempted assault in Monday’s attack, police said. It wasn’t immediately known whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

The victim was identified as Vilma Kari, a 65-year-old woman who immigrated from the Philippines, her daughter told The New York Times; the newspaper did not identify Kari’s daughter.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez said the victim is Filipino American.

The country’s foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr., condemned the attack in a Twitter post, saying “This is gravely noted and will influence Philippine foreign policy.”

Locsin did not elaborate how the attack could influence Philippine policy toward the United States. The countries are longtime treaty allies and the Philippine leader, Rodrigo Duterte, is a vocal critic of U.S. security policies who has moved to terminate a key agreement that allows largescale military exercises with American forces in the Philippines.

“I might as well say it, so no one on the other side can say, `We didn’t know you took racial brutality against Filipinos at all seriously.’ We do,” Locsin said.

Kari was walking to church in midtown Manhattan when police said a man kicked her in the stomach, knocked her to the ground, stomped on her face, shouted anti-Asian slurs and told her, “you don’t belong here” before casually walking away.

She was discharged from the hospital Tuesday after being treated for serious injuries, a hospital spokesperson said.

The attack Monday was among the latest in a national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, and happened just weeks after a mass shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent. The surge in violence has been linked in part to misplaced blame for the coronavirus pandemic and former President Donald Trump’s use of racially charged terms like “Chinese virus.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Monday’s attack “absolutely disgusting and outrageous.” He said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that witnesses did not intervene.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you do, you’ve got to help your fellow New Yorker,” de Blasio said Tuesday.

The attack happened late Monday morning outside a luxury apartment building two blocks from Times Square.

Two workers inside the building who appeared to be security guards were seen on surveillance video witnessing the attack but failing to come to the woman’s aid. One of them was seen closing the building door as the woman was on the ground. The attacker was able to casually walk away while onlookers watched, the video showed.

The building’s management company said they were suspended pending an investigation. The workers’ union said they called for help immediately.

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, said the victim “could easily have been my mother.” He too criticized the bystanders, saying their inaction was “exactly the opposite of what we need here in New York City.”

This year in New York City, there have been 33 hate crimes with an Asian victim as of Sunday, police said. There were 11 such attacks by the same time last year.

On Friday, in the same neighborhood as Monday’s attack, a 65-year-old Asian American woman was accosted by a man waving an unknown object and shouting anti-Asian insults. A 48-year-old man was arrested the next day and charged with menacing. He is not suspected in Monday’s attack.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea announced last week that the department would increase outreach and patrols in predominantly Asian communities, including the use of undercover officers to prevent and disrupt attacks.

The neighborhood where Monday’s attack occurred, Hell’s Kitchen, is predominantly white, with an Asian population of less than 20%, according to city demographic data.

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

UK watchdog: Police acted correctly at vigil for slain woman

From the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — A U.K. police watchdog said Tuesday that officers didn’t behave “in a heavy-handed manner” when they broke up a vigil for a London woman whose killing sparked an outcry about women’s safety.

Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said officers at the vigil in memory of Sarah Everard acted in “a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.”

FILE – In this file photo dated Saturday, March 20, 2021, floral tributes and messages surround the bandstand on Clapham Common in London after the nearby disappearance of Sarah Everard. A U.K. police watchdog said Tuesday March 30, 2021, that officers did not behave “in a heavy-handed manner” when they broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home in London and was later found murdered. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, FILE)

Everard, a 33-year-old London resident, was last seen walking home from a friend’s apartment on the evening of March 3. Her body was later found hidden in woodland more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. A serving police officer has been charged with murder.

Hundreds of people gathered March 13 on London’s Clapham Common to remember Everard and protest violence against women, despite a ban on mass gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. Images of police officers tussling with women at the peaceful rally, and leading some away in handcuffs, drew strong criticism.

Parr said the gathering presented “a complex and sensitive policing challenge” and police had acted appropriately to disperse people when the vigil turned into “a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.”

He said criticism of the force, including from some senior politicians, had been “unwarranted” and had undermined public confidence in the police.

He acknowledged, however, that there was “insufficient” communication between police commanders on the ground, and said the Metropolitan Police force could have taken a “more conciliatory” approach after the event.

Reclaim These Streets, the group that called the vigil after Everard’s death, said the report was “disappointing” and demonstrated “institutional sexism running through the force.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had earlier criticized the police response, said he accepted the report, “but it is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate.”

World leaders call for pandemic treaty, but short on details

By MARIA CHENG for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — More than 20 heads of government and global agencies called in a commentary published Tuesday for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations in the wake of COVID-19.

But there were few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.

FILE – In this file photo dated Tuesday, July 14, 2020, Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adjusts his face mask during the Bastille Day military parade, in Paris. France. More than 20 heads of government and global agencies have called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response, that they say will protect future generations from future pandemics, with WHO’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other leaders calling for countries to act cooperatively. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, FILE)

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Premier Mario Draghi of Italy and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda proposed “a renewed collective commitment” to reinforce preparedness and response systems by leveraging the U.N. health agency’s constitution.

“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,” Tedros said during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide “a framework for international cooperation and solidarity” and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks.

International regulations governing health and implemented by WHO already exist — and can be disregarded by countries with few consequences. Despite an obligation for nations to share critical epidemic data and materials quickly with WHO, for example, China declined to do so when the coronavirus first broke out.

And with no enforcement powers, WHO officials had little means of compelling them to share details, an AP investigation last year found.

Steven Solomon, WHO’s principal legal officer, said the proposed pandemic treaty would need to be ratified by lawmakers in the participating countries.

“Specifics about enforcement will be up to member states to decide on,” Solomon said.

European Council President Charles Michel first laid out the idea of a pandemic treaty at the U.N. General Assembly in December. Joining Tedros at Tuesday’s briefing, Michel said the global community needs to “build a pandemic defense for future generations that extends far beyond today’s crisis. For this, we must translate the political will into concrete actions.”

Gian Luca Burci, a former WHO legal counsel who is now a professor at the Graduate Institute of international affairs in Geneva, described the proposal as an attempted “big fix” involving information sharing, preparedness and response, saying the concept is “like a Christmas tree, frankly.”

“But to me, the risk is that it diverts attention from the tool that we have” — WHO’s existing International Health Regulations, Burci said recently. He said his fear was those regulations would get short shrift and receive “cosmetic improvements, but fundamentally remain a weak instrument.”

Although the 25 signatories of the commentary called for “solidarity,” and greater “societal commitment,” there was no indication any country would soon change its own approach to responding to the pandemic. China, Russia and the United States didn’t join in signing the statement.

WHO legal officer Solomon said the pandemic treaty might also address issues such as the sharing of vaccine technology and vaccine supplies, but gave no indication how that might happen. Despite WHO’s calls for patents to be waived during the pandemic, rich countries have continued to oppose efforts by poor countries to compel them to share vaccine manufacturing technology.

Tedros pleaded with rich countries last week to immediately donate 10 million COVID-19 vaccines so that immunization campaigns could start in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. Not a single country has yet publicly offered to share its vaccines immediately. Of the more than 459 million vaccines administered globally, the majority have been in just 10 countries — and 28% in just one. WHO didn’t identify the countries.

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Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Geneva.

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Former officer’s trial in George Floyd’s death gets underway

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and AMY FORLITI for the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd went on trial Monday, with prosecutors promptly showing the jury the video of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on the Black man’s neck for several minutes as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to get off and Floyd gasped that he couldn’t breathe.

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pre-trial motions prior to opening statements, Monday March 29, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin, in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

In opening statements, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that the number to remember was 9 minutes, 29 seconds — the amount of time Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement with his knee last May in the case that triggered scattered violence and a national reckoning over racial injustice.

The white officer “didn’t let up, he didn’t get up,” even after a handcuffed Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and went motionless, Blackwell said.

“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him,” the prosecutor said.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing: “Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career.”

Floyd was resisting arrest, and Chauvin arrived to assist other officers who were struggling to get Floyd into a squad car as the crowd around them grew larger and more hostile, Nelson said.

The defense attorney also disputed that Chauvin was to blame for Floyd’s death.

Floyd had none of the telltale signs of asphyxiation and had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, Nelson said. He said Floyd’s drug use combined with his heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as the adrenaline flowing through his body, to cause his death from a heart rhythm disturbance.

“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”

The medical examiner’s autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system but listed his cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The widely seen video sparked outrage across the U.S. and led to widespread protests and unrest, along with demands that the country confront racism and police brutality. Confederate statues and other symbols were pulled down around the U.S., and activists demanded that police department budgets be cut or overhauled.

Playing the footage during opening statements underscored the central role video will play in the case. It was posted to Facebook by a bystander who witnessed Floyd’s arrest after he was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.

“My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts,” Floyd says, and “I can’t breathe officer.” Onlookers repeatedly shout at the officers to get off the 46-year-old Floyd. One woman, identifying herself as a city Fire Department employee, shouts at Chauvin to check Floyd’s pulse.

Jurors watched intently as the video played on multiple screens, with one drawing a sharp breath as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin sat calmly during the opening statements and took notes, looking up at the video periodically.

The timeline differs from the initial complaint filed last May by prosecutors, who said Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. In the following weeks, demonstrators staged “die-ins” lasting 8 minutes, 46 seconds, and 8:46 became a rallying cry in the case. The time was revised during the course of the investigation.

Fourteen people in the jury box will hear the case — eight of them white, six of them Black or multiracial, according to the court. Two of the 14 will be alternates. The judge has not said which ones will be alternates and which ones will deliberate the case.

Legal experts fully expected prosecutors to play the video to the jury early on.

“If you’re a prosecutor you want to start off strong. You want to frame the argument — and nothing frames the argument in this case as much as that video,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and managing director of Berkeley Research Group in Chicago.

Blackwell said bystander witnesses would include a Minneapolis Fire Department first responder who wanted to administer aid. He said Chauvin pointed Mace at her.

“She wanted to check on his pulse, check on Mr. Floyd’s well-being,” Blackwell said. “She did her best to intervene. When she approached Mr. Chauvin …. Mr. Chauvin reached for his Mace and pointed it in her direction. She couldn’t help.”

About a dozen people chanted and carried signs outside the courthouse as Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the Floyd family went inside. The group also carried a makeshift coffin with flowers on top.

Crump said the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence.” And he blasted the idea that it would be a tough test for jurors.

“For all those people that continue to say that this is such a difficult trial, that this is a hard trial, we refute that,” he said. “We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case.”

The trial is expected to last about four weeks at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilized.

The key questions will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.

For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death and were reckless and without regard for human life.

The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.

Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison, and third-degree carries up to 25 years, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 1/2 years in prison if convicted on either charge. Manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

CDC director has feeling of ‘impending doom’ amid new spike

By ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made an impassioned plea to Americans Monday not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19, saying she has a recurring feeling “of impending doom.” President Joe Biden prepared to announce further efforts to expand access to coronavirus vaccines.

In this March 19, 2021, photo, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leads President Joe Biden into the room for a COVID-19 briefing at the headquarters for the CDC Atlanta. Walensky is making an impassioned plea to Americans not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19. She warned on March 29 of a potential “fourth wave” of the virus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Speaking during a virtual White House briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky grew emotional as she reflected on her experience treating COVID-19 patients who are alone at the end of their lives.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” she said. “But right now, I’m scared.”

“I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she said.

Cases of the virus are up about 10% over the past week from the previous week, to about 60,000 cases per day, with both hospitalizations and deaths ticking up as well, Walensky said. She warned that without immediate action the U.S. could follow European countries into another spike in cases and suffer needless deaths.

“I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen,” she added.

Walensky’s comments came hours before President Joe Biden was to address the nation Monday afternoon with an update on the vaccination effort.

A senior administration official said the president would announce that by April 19 at least 90% of the adult U.S. population would be eligible for vaccination — and would have access to a vaccination site within 5 miles of home. Quick vaccination would still depend on supply as well as overcoming some people’s hesitancy about the shots.

Biden has directed that all states make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, but many have moved to lift eligibility requirements sooner in anticipation of supply increases.

Meanwhile, the White House was moving to double the number of pharmacies participating in the federal retail pharmacy program — which has emerged as among the most efficient avenues for administering vaccines — and increase the number of doses for them to deliver. The retail pharmacies are located in close proximity to most Americans and have experience delivering vaccines like the flu shots.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s remarks.

“The president has not held back in calling for governors, leaders, the American people to continue to abide by the public health guidelines,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “He will continue to do that through all of his engagements.”

Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. appealed to elected officials, community leaders and everyday Americans to maintain social distancing measures and mask wearing.

“We are doing things prematurely,” Fauci said, referring to moves to ease up on restrictions. Walensky appealed to Americans, “Just please hold on a little while longer.”

She added: “We are not powerless, we can change this trajectory of the pandemic.”

Walensky pointed to an uptick in travel and loosening virus restrictions for the increase in cases. “People want to be done with this. I, too, want to be done with this,” Walensky said.

“We’ve seen surges after every single holiday,” she reiterated: “Please limit travel to essential travel for the time being.”

The White House, meanwhile is ruling out the creation of a national “vaccine passport” for Americans to verify their immunization status, saying it is leaving it to the private sector to develop a system for people show they’ve been vaccinated. Some other countries are establishing national databases to allow vaccinated people to resume normal activities.

“We do know that there is a segment of the population that is concerned that the government will play too heavy-handed of a role in monitoring their vaccinations,” said White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt. He said officials are worried that “it would discourage people” from getting vaccinated if the federal government was involved.

The administration, instead, is developing guidelines for such passports, touching on privacy, accuracy and equity, but the White House has not said when those guidelines will be ready.

Giant container ship that blocked Suez Canal is finally free

By ISABEL DEBRE and SAMY MAGDY for the Associated Press

SUEZ, Egypt (AP) — Salvage teams on Monday freed a colossal container ship stuck for nearly a week in the Suez Canal, ending a crisis that had clogged one of the world’s most vital waterways and halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.

Helped by the tides, a flotilla of tugboats wrenched the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since March 23.

In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is pulled by one of the Suez Canal tugboats, in the Suez Canal, Egypt, Monday, March 29, 2021. Engineers on Monday “partially refloated ” the colossal container ship that continues to block traffic through the Suez Canal, authorities said, without providing further details about when the vessel would be set free. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

The tugs blared their horns in jubilation as they guided the Ever Given through the water after days of futility that had captivated the world, drawing scrutiny and social media ridicule.

The giant vessel headed toward the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, where it will be inspected, said Evergreen Marine Corp., a Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship.

The Suez Canal Authority also will inspect the area where the vessel ran aground, to see if it is safe for shipping to resume through the waterway and clear a traffic jam of ships waiting to enter.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given … thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”

Buffeted by a sandstorm, the Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez. That created a massive traffic jam that held up $9 billion a day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, are backed up as they wait to traverse the canal. Dozens of others have taken the long, alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a 5,000-kilometer (3,100-mile) detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

Egypt, which considers the canal a source of national pride and crucial revenue, has lost over $95 million in tolls, according to the data firm Refinitiv. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who for days was silent about the crisis, praised Monday’s events.

“Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis,” he wrote on Facebook, “despite the massive technical complexity.”

In the village of Amer, which overlooks the canal, residents cheered as the vessel moved along. Many scrambled to get a closer look while others mockingly waved goodbye to the departing ship from their fields of clover

“Mission accomplished,” villager Abdalla Ramadan said. “The whole world is relieved.”

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted its congratulations to Egypt.

While the canal is now unblocked, it is unclear when traffic would return to normal. Analysts expect it could take at least another 10 days to clear the backlog on either end.

The breakthrough came after days of immense effort with an elite salvage team from the Netherlands. Tugboats pushed and pulled to budge the behemoth from the shore, their work buoyed by high tide at dawn Monday that led to the vessel’s partial refloating. Specialized dredgers dug out the stern and vacuumed sand and mud from beneath the bow.

The operation was extremely delicate. While the Ever Given was stuck, the rising and falling tides put stress on the vessel, which is 400 meters (a quarter mile) long, raising concerns it could crack or break.

Berdowski told Dutch radio station NPO 1 the company had always believed it would be the two powerful tugboats it sent that would free the ship. Monday’s strong tide “helped push the ship at the top while we pulled at the bottom and luckily it shot free,” he said.

“We were helped enormously by the strong falling tide we had this afternoon. In effect, you have the forces of nature pushing hard with you and they pushed harder than the two sea tugs could pull,” Berdowski added.

The crew on the tugs was “euphoric,“ but there also was a tense moment when the huge ship was floating free ”so then you have to get it under control very quickly with the tugs around it so that it doesn’t push itself back into the other side” of the canal, he said.

Jubilant workers on a tugboat sailing with the Ever Given chanted, “Mashhour, No. 1,” referring to the dredger that worked around the vessel. The dredger is named for Mashhour Ahmed Mashhour, assigned to run the canal with others when it was nationalized in 1956 by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

Once the Ever Given is inspected in Great Bitter Lake, officials will decide whether the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship hauling goods from Asia to Europe would continue to its original destination of Rotterdam, or if it would need to enter another port for repairs.

Canal officials also will do a detailed inspection of the area where the Ever Given was grounded, especially the bank “to see how much of that rock has been displaced and might have impacted the deep water of the canal,” said Capt. Nicolas Sloane, vice president of the International Salvage Union who was involved in salvaging the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that tipped over off Italy in 2012.

If all goes well, the canal authority could open up the waterway to a northbound convoy by Tuesday morning, he told The Associated Press.

The crisis cast a spotlight on the vital trade route that carries over 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil. Over 19,000 ships ferrying Chinese-made consumer goods and millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas flow through the artery from the Middle East and Asia to Europe and North America.

The unprecedented shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, has prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world now under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely break down in the beginning of COVID,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. “We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies. … Now these floating ships are the warehouse.”

International trade expert Jeffrey Bergstrand predicted “only a minor and transitory effect” on prices of U.S. imports.

“Since most of the imports blocked over the last week are heading to Europe, U.S. consumers will likely see little effect on prices of U.S. imports, except to the extent that intermediate products of U.S. final goods are made in Europe,” said Bergstrand, professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

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DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed.

Serbia vaccinates migrants amid surge in COVID-19 cases

By IVANA BZGANOVIC for the Associated Press

KRNJACA, Serbia (AP) — Bashir Ahmad Shirzay lived through wars in Afghanistan, survived a harrowing journey to reach Europe and has no intention of taking a gamble with the coronavirus.

Migrants wait in line to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine during the vaccination in the “Krnjaca” refugee centre near Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, March 26, 2021. Serbia has started vaccinating migrants as the Balkan country struggles with a new coronavirus outbreak despite a widespread inoculation campaign. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

He was among the first to roll up his sleeve for a COVID-19 shot on Friday as Serbia became the first European country to vaccinate people living in its refugee camps and asylum centers, according to United Nations officials.

”We should take the vaccine for our health,” Shirzay said. “The virus takes a lot of lives.”

Some 530 migrants and asylum-seekers across Serbia have signed up to get vaccinated. The first recipients had their initial jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine Friday at a drab camp on the outskirts of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

“Today is a very, very special day because we have vaccination of refugees and asylum-seekers in the centers,” Francesca Bonelli, a U.N. refugee agency representative in Serbia, said. “It is really an important sign of support that Serbia provides to refugees, and it is a very good example of inclusion of refugees in Serbian society.”

Thousands of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia are stuck in Serbia and neighboring Bosnia while awaiting opportunities to cross a border into European Union member Croatia and continue on to wealthier Western nations.

Serbia has administered the most coronavirus shots per capita of any country in Europe, a distinction it holds in part because the government worked to secure vaccine supplies from Russia and China. But the Balkan country, like the rest of central and eastern Europe, is facing another onslaught of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Migrants, many of whom live out in the open or under conditions at camps where the virus is easily spread, are considered one of the most vulnerable risk groups in the pandemic. A camp in neighboring Bosnia experienced a major outbreak this month.

“Vaccination is really important because they are living in the collective centers and keeping the physical distancing is very hard and very difficult to truly control the outbreak, so this is really a great opportunity for the migrant population to receive this vaccination,” Abebayehu Assefa Mengistu, a World Health Organization representative in Serbia, said.

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AP writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed.

Hands touch: Italy’s nursing homes emerge from COVID tunnel

By COLLEEN BARRY for the Associated Press

ALZANO LOMBARDO, Italy (AP) — Their last hug was through plastic.

Palmiro “Mario” Tami knew this was the day he was getting his second coronavirus vaccine shot. But with the northern Italian region of Lombardy again under lockdown, he did not know it would be accompanied by a visit from his wife of 58 years. Nor that he would be able, at last, to touch her hand.

In this photo taken on Feb. 24, 2021, Palmiro Tami, 82, celebrates his birthday hugging with his wife Franca Persico, inside a protective inflatable plastic tunnel at the Martino Zanchi nursing home, in Alzano Lombardo, northern Italy. Italy’s nursing homes have been declared an initial success in an otherwise lagging vaccine campaign. At a nursing home near Bergamo, one 82-year-old resident received his second jab, and a surprise visit from his 77-year-old wife. Their last hug had been through plastic on his birthday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

“Franca? Is that you?” Tami, 82, exclaimed as he peered through the window of the nursing home rec room at a figure wrapped in a hospital gown, coiffed hair covered by green surgical netting and face obscured by a surgical mask. Still, through the glass, her bright blue eyes shone through.

His wife, Franca Persico, held a red rose she had brought for him. Tami reached inside his canvas pouch for a tiny statuette of a girl for her. “I won it at Bingo,” Tami said with delight.

The Martino Zanchi Foundation Nursing Home has been closed to visitors for most of the month, as Italy’s pandemic epicenter of Lombardy plunged again into a near-total lockdown. Tami and his wife last saw each other in person on Feb. 24, Tami’s birthday. They were able to embrace through a hug tunnel, an inflatable plastic structure that permitted residents to safely hug loved ones. Even that muffled touch had been denied since August.

The final jab for the first one-third of the nursing home’s 94 residents this week marked the beginning of the end of a year-long struggle to protect its fragile wards.

Nursing homes like the Martino Zanchi Foundation suffered the brunt of Italy’s first wave, claiming at least one-third of Italy’s official virus victims. Many more were not tested or counted as they died.

Nursing home director Maria Giulia Madaschi estimates that three-quarters of the 21 people who died in her care in March and April 2020 had COVID-19, which ravaged the valley next to Bergamo, spreading from Alzano Lombardo’s hospital nearby. But the system was too taxed to test nursing home residents and those deaths never figured into Italy’s death toll.

Italy has prioritized vaccines to the devastated nursing homes, and officials have declared a decline in cases among residents “an initial success” in a vaccination campaign otherwise marred by supply delays and disorganization. Half of Italy’s over-80s at large still have not been vaccinated, despite initial promises to have them fully vaccinated by the end of March.

On Monday, 27 of the nursing home’s residents received their second shot. Another round of vaccinations were made in the week, and the final group will be protected in early April. Madaschi hopes this is a sign that they are emerging from the dark COVID-19 tunnel.

“A little light, I can see,” she said.

Tami, a retired nurse in orthopedic surgery, received his jab happily. The doctor who administered it, knowing Tami’s pride in his former profession, teased that she had once been his apprentice.

Tami had arrived at the nursing home in August during a lull in the pandemic. Tami had suffered mobility and cognitive declines due to heart issues, and then his wife underwent surgery for cancer shortly before Italy’s 2020 spring lockdown. Doctors advised she could no longer give him the care he needed at home.

The irregularity of visits and the changing restrictions due to COVID-19 were a cause of stress — and a strong enough reason for Madaschi to make an exception to the no-visitor rule.

Madaschi picked Persico, 77, up at the apartment the couple had shared, which was filled with family photographs, including that of a first great-grandchild, and cut crystal glasses and vases. Persico, dressed elegantly in a knit top with a shimmer of gold lurex, confessed she had been ready since 7 a.m.

“I wasn’t even this nervous on my wedding day,” she said. “Maybe because I was younger.”

The couple’s reunion started hesitantly, separated at first by glass. But the nursing home staff had prepared a private table in the rec room for lunch. The couple sat at either end, as Persico explained that she still hadn’t been vaccinated, reminding her husband that she was a cancer patient who needed to take extra care.

“I am crazy in love with you,” Tami said across the long table. “Can I touch your hand?”

Madaschi pushed Tami outdoors into the sunlight, where the couple, at last, clasped hands. “We can kiss each other again?” he asked from behind his mask.

Of course, his bride of 58 years answered. When she, too, has had the vaccine.

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Tornado outbreak rips across Deep South; at least 5 dead

By KEVIN McGILL for the Associated Press

Tornadoes and severe storms have torn through the Deep South, killing at least five people as strong winds splintered trees, wrecked homes and downed power lines.

The tornado outbreak rolled into western Georgia early Friday. Meteorologists said one large, dangerous tornado moved through Newnan and surrounding communities in the Atlanta metro area.

Residents survey damage to homes after a tornado touched down south of Birmingham, Ala. in the Eagle Point community damaging multiple homes, Thursday, March 25, 2021. Authorities reported major tornado damage Thursday south of Birmingham as strong storms moved through the state. The governor issued an emergency declaration as meteorologists warned that more twisters were likely on their way. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

A day earlier, a sheriff in eastern Alabama said a tornado cut a diagonal line through his county, striking mostly rural areas.

“Five people lost their lives and for those families, it will never be the same,” Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said at briefing Thursday evening.

One of the victims in the hard-hit Ohatchee, Alabama area, was Dwight Jennings’s neighbor. Jennings spent several hours searching for his friend’s dog before the animal was found alive, he said. The two men had planned to go catfishing this weekend, Jennings lamented.

As many as eight tornadoes might have hit Alabama on Thursday, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham. Multiple twisters sprang from a “super cell” of storms that later moved into Georgia, he said.

Reports of tornado damage in the Newnan area began coming in shortly after midnight. Trees were toppled and power lines downed, knocking out service by the local utility.

“It’s still dark so it’s hard to assess all of the damage but we believe we have 30 broken poles,” Newnan Utilities general manager Dennis McEntire said. “We serve about 10,000 customers and about half are without electricity right now.”

Newnan police urged the public in a Facebook post to “get off the roads” while emergency officials surveyed the damage.

Newnan Mayor Keith Brady said no fatalities were immediately reported.

The bad weather stretched across the southern U.S., raising concerns of thunderstorms and flooding in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas. In Tennessee, emergency responders hospitalized one person in Sumner County, and the Nashville Fire Department posted photos on Twitter showing large trees down, damaged homes and streets blocked by debris.

In Ohio, more than 100,000 people were without power early Friday after thunderstorms delivered 50 mph (80 kph) wind gusts to parts of the state. Forecasters reported peak gusts of 63 mph (100 kph) in Marysville.

Some school districts from Alabama to Ohio canceled or delayed class on Friday due to damage and power outages.

Authorities said one tornado carved up the ground for more than an hour Thursday, traveling roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) across Alabama. Vast areas of Shelby County near Birmingham — the state’s biggest city — were badly damaged.

In the city of Pelham, James Dunaway said he initially ignored the tornado warning when it came over his phone. But then he heard the twister approaching, left the upstairs bedroom where he had been watching television and entered a hallway — just before the storm blew off the roof and sides of his house. His bedroom was left fully exposed.

“I’m very lucky to be alive,” Dunaway, 75, told Al.com.

Firefighters outside a flattened home in the Eagle Point subdivision, also in Shelby County, said the family that lived there made it out alive. Nearby homes were roofless or missing their second stories.

Farther west in the city of Centreville, south of Tuscaloosa, Cindy Smitherman and her family and neighbors huddled in their underground storm pit as a twister passed over their home.

A tree fell on the shelter door, trapping the eight inside for about 20 minutes until someone came with a chain saw to help free them, said Smitherman, 62. The twister downed trees, overturned cars and destroyed a workshop on the property.

“I’m just glad we’re alive,” she said.

Centreville Mayor Mike Oakley told ABC 33/40 news that a local airport was hit. “We have airplanes torn apart like toys. We’ve got homes along here that are totally destroyed, trees down, power lines down. It’s pretty devastating.”

First lady Jill Biden postponed a trip to Birmingham and Jasper, Alabama, that she had planned for Friday because of the severe weather, her office said.

“Thinking of everyone in Alabama and all of those impacted by the severe weather across the South tonight. My prayers are with the grieving families. Please stay safe,” Biden tweeted late Thursday.

Earlier, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an emergency declaration for 46 counties, and officials opened shelters in and around Birmingham.

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McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writer Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; photographer Butch Dill in Ohatchee, Alabama; Desiree Mathurin in Atlanta; and Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, contributed to this report.

UN-backed vaccine delivery program warns of supply delays

By JAMEY KEATEN and ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL for the Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide has announced supply delays involving a key Indian manufacturer, a major setback for the ambitious rollout aimed at helping low- and middle-income countries vaccinate their populations and fight the pandemic.

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, is removed from a portable cold storage box in preparation for a vaccination, in Machakos, Kenya, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. AstraZeneca’s repeated missteps in reporting vaccine data coupled with a blood clot scare could do lasting damage to the credibility of a shot that is the linchpin in the global strategy to stop the coronavirus pandemic, potentially even undermining vaccine confidence more broadly, experts say. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and its partners said Thursday that the Serum Institute of India, a pivotal vaccine maker behind the COVAX program, will face increasing domestic demands as coronavirus infections surge.

“Delays in securing supplies of SII-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in India,” Gavi said.

The move will affect up to 40 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccines being manufactured by the Serum Institute that were to be delivered for COVAX this month, as well as 50 million expected next month.

COVAX, an initiative devised to give countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth, has so far shipped vaccines to some 50 countries and territories.

The Serum Institute of Indian has been contracted to supply vaccines to 64 countries, and Gavi said the U.N.-backed program has “notified all affected economies of potential delays.”

Gavi said the Serum Institute has pledged that “alongside supplying India, it will prioritize the COVAX multilateral solution for equitable distribution.”

Gavi, which runs COVAX jointly with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has distributed 31 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — 28 million from the Serum Institute and another 3 million from a South Korean contractor also producing it.

The program had been aiming to deliver some 237 million AstraZeneca vaccines through the end of May. A Gavi spokesman said the delays were not expected to affect the overall goal of shipping some 2 billion doses worldwide through COVAX by the end of the year.

U.N. officials, governments, advocacy groups and others in recent months have pleaded with manufacturers to do more to speed up and broaden production of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure fair distribution — insisting that the pandemic can only be defeated if everyone is safe from it.

The Serum Institute of India, also known as SII, is the world’s largest maker of vaccines. Unlike many other manufacturers, it pledged to prioritize making shots for COVAX.

India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, tweeted a photograph Thursday afternoon of vaccines received by South Sudan, although there have been growing concerns that vaccine exports from India have dwindled in the past week.

India has consistently maintained that it would try to export vaccines to as many countries as possible, but with the caveat that supplies would based on availability and the requirements of India’s own immunization program.

India’s need for vaccines is set to increase significantly beginning April 1, when it plans to start vaccinating everyone over 45, age groups that account for 88% of all virus-related deaths in India.

The expanded vaccinations coincide with a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections and concerns about more contagious variants circulating in the country. India reported over 50,000 new confirmed cases on Thursday, the highest daily number so far this year,

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AP Science writer Aniruddha Ghosal reported from New Delhi.

EXPLAINER: What N Korean missile tests mean for US relations

By HYUNG-JIN KIM for the Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — New U.S. president, same old North Korean playbook. Almost.

Two months after President Joe Biden took office, North Korea is again turning to weapons tests to wrest outside concessions. But the tests so far have been relatively small compared to past launches. That indicates Washington has a window of engagement before North Korea pursues bigger provocations.

FILE – This Aug. 29, 2017, file photo provided by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

This week, North Korea’s neighbors reported the country fired four short-range missiles into the sea in its first missile launches in about a year. The launches — two on Sunday, two on Thursday — came after the North said it had rebuffed dialogue offers by the Biden administration, citing what it called U.S. hostility.

Here’s look at North Korea’s recent missile launches and their motives.

WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT NORTH KOREA’S STRATEGY THIS TIME?

North Korea has a long history of performing major weapons tests around the time new governments take power in the United States and South Korea.

In February 2017, less than a month after Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, North Korea tested a mid-range missile that observers said showed an advance in weapon mobility. Later in 2017, four days after current South Korean President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated, North Korea fired what it called a newly developed, nuclear-capable intermediate-range missile.

In 2009, North Korea conducted a long-range rocket launch and a nuclear test within the first four months of the first term of the Obama administration.

This week’s weapons tests largely appear to follow that playbook, but experts believe the country held back from a more serious a provocation because the Biden administration is still evaluating its North Korea policy.

The four missiles fired this week were all short-range and don’t pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. According to South Korea’s assessment, the first two weapons launched Sunday were believed to be cruise missiles. But Japan said the two fired Thursday were ballistic missiles, more provocative weapons that North Korea is banned from testing by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“The basic pattern isn’t much different. But while North Korea in the past focused on showing off its maximum capability when a new government came in the United States, I feel the North is trying to control the level of (its provocation),” said Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

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WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA WANT?

What it has always wanted: for “the United States to lift sanctions while letting it maintain its nuclear capability,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

Because the Biden administration is unlikely do that anytime soon, some experts say North Korea may stage bigger provocations, like a long-range missile test or a nuclear detonation.

For now, it is ramping up its rhetoric along with the short-range missile launches.

In January, about 10 days before Biden took office, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced he would enlarge his nuclear arsenal and beef up the country’s fighting capability to cope with a hostile U.S. policy and military threats. He also pressed South Korea to suspend regular military drills with the United States if it wants better ties.

When U.S. and South Korean militaries pressed ahead with their springtime drills this month, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned the U.S. to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington reached out to Pyongyang starting in mid-February, but Pyongyang hasn’t responded. Coupled with the overture, however, Blinken continued to slam North Korea’s human rights record and nuclear ambitions when he visited Seoul last week. North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said her country will keep ignoring such U.S. offers because of what she called American hostility.

The recent launches seem to be an example of North Korea “putting Kim Yo Jong’s threats into action as she said the United States can’t sleep in peace if it doesn’t accept its demands,” said Moon Seong Mook.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Experts say it’s highly unlikely for the Biden administration to back down and make concessions in the face of North Korea’s short-range missile launches. Biden, who has called Kim “a thug,” also isn’t likely to sit down for one-on-one talks with Kim unless he gets a pledge that North Korea will denuclearize — and officials confirm the country is sincere.

Amid the standoff, North Korea could end up launching bigger weapons tests, especially if it isn’t satisfied with the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review that is expected to be publicized soon, experts say.

“Biden won’t likely do a Trump-style ‘reality show summit’ with Kim. Kim’s agony in the next four years will be subsequently deepened and his nuclear gambling cannot help continuing,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at South Korea’s Korea University.

North Korea could turn to long-range missile and even nuclear tests, which Kim Jong Un suspended when he began engaging diplomatically with Washington. While Kim Jong Un has claimed to have achieved the ability to attack the U.S. homeland with nuclear missiles, outside experts said the North hasn’t mastered everything it would need to do that.

Such a major provocation would certainly prompt the United States and its allies to seek additional U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

But tougher sanctions may be difficult because of China, the North’s major diplomatic ally and economic lifeline, wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council. Given its current tensions with Washington, China may not easily agree to more sanctions even if North Korea engages in long-range missile or nuclear tests, analyst Cha said.

Biden doubles goal of COVID vaccines to 200 million doses

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden opened his first formal news conference Thursday with a nod toward the improving picture on battling the coronavirus, doubling his original goal by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of his first 100 days in office.

The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses earlier this month — before even his 60th day in office — as the president pushes to defeat a pandemic that has killed more than 545,000 Americans and devastated the nation’s economy.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

But while Biden had held off on holding his first news conference so he could use it to celebrate progress against the pandemic and passage of a giant COVID-19 relief package, he was certain to be pressed at the question-and-answer session about all sorts of other challenges that have cropped up along the way.

A pair of mass shootings, rising international tensions, early signs of intraparty divisions and increasing numbers of migrants crossing the southern border are all confronting a West Wing known for its message discipline. Biden had been the first chief executive in four decades to reach this point in his term without holding a formal news conference,

While seemingly ambitious, Biden’s vaccine goal amounts to a continuation of the existing pace of vaccinations through the end of next month. The U.S. is now averaging about 2.5 million doses per day. An even greater rate is possible. Over the next month, two of the bottlenecks to getting Americans vaccinated are set to be lifted as the U.S. supply of vaccines is on track to increase and states lift eligibility requirements to get shots.

The scene looked very different from what Americans are used to seeing for formal presidential news conferences.

The president still stood behind a podium against a backdrop of flags. But due to the pandemic, only 30 socially distanced chairs for journalists were spread out in the expansive room. The White House limited attendance due to the virus, and aides will sanitize microphones before they are shuttled to the reporters called upon by Biden.

“It’s an opportunity for him to speak to the American people, obviously directly through the coverage, directly through all of you,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday. “And so I think he’s thinking about what he wants to say, what he wants to convey, where he can provide updates, and, you know, looking forward to the opportunity to engage with a free press.”

While Biden has been on pace with his predecessors in taking questions from the press in other formats, he tends to field just one or two informal inquiries at a time, usually in a hurried setting at the end of an event or in front of a whirring helicopter.

Pressure had mounted on Biden to hold a formal session, which allows reporters to have an extended back-and-forth with the president on the issues of the day. Biden’s conservative critics have pointed to the delay to suggest that Biden was being shielded by his staff.

West Wing aides have dismissed the questions about a news conference as a Washington obsession, pointing to Biden’s high approval ratings while suggesting that the general public is not concerned about the event. The president himself, when asked Wednesday if he were ready for the press conference, joked, “What press conference?”

Behind the scenes, though, aides have taken the event seriously enough to hold a mock session with the president earlier this week. And there is some concern that Biden, a self-proclaimed “gaffe machine,” could go off message and generate a series of unflattering news cycles.

“The press conference serves an important purpose: It presents the press an extended opportunity to hold a leader accountable for decisions,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, presidential scholar and professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “A question I ask: What is the public going to learn in this venue that it couldn’t learn elsewhere? And why does it matter? The answer: The president speaks for the nation.”

Biden was expected to point to a surge in vaccine distribution, encouraging signs in the economy and the benefits Americans will receive from the sweeping stimulus package.

But plenty of challenges abound.

His appearance comes just a day after he appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the government’s response to the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, where the administration faces a growing humanitarian and political challenge that threatens to overshadow Biden’s legislative agenda.

In less than a week, two mass shootings have rattled the nation and pressure has mounted on the White House to back tougher gun measures. The White House has struggled to blunt a nationwide effort by Republican legislatures to tighten election laws. A pair of Democratic senators briefly threatened to hold up the confirmation of Biden appointees due to a lack of Asian American representation in the Cabinet. And both North Korea and Russia have unleashed provocative actions to test a new commander in chief.

In a sharp contrast with the previous administration, the Biden White House has exerted extreme message discipline, empowering staff to speak but doing so with caution. The new White House team has carefully managed the president’s appearances, which serves Biden’s purposes but denies the media opportunities to directly press him on major policy issues and to engage in the kind of back-and-forth that can draw out information and thoughts that go beyond curated talking points.

Having overcome a childhood stutter and famously long-winded, Biden has long enjoyed interplay with reporters and has defied aides’ requests to ignore questions from the press. He has been prone to gaffes throughout his long political career and, as president, has occasionally struggled with off-the-cuff remarks.

Those are the types of distractions his aides have tried to avoid, and, in a pandemic silver lining, were largely able to dodge during the campaign because the virus kept Biden home for months and limited the potential for public mistakes.

Firmly pledging his belief in freedom of the press, Biden has rebuked his predecessor’s incendiary rhetoric toward the media, including Donald Trump’s references to reporters as “the enemy of the people.” Biden restored the daily press briefing, which had gone extinct under Trump, opening a window into the workings of the White House. And he sat for a national interview with ABC News last week.

Biden has also delivered a series of well-received speeches, including his inaugural address, and has shown that he can effectively communicate beyond news conferences, according to Frank Sesno, former head of George Washington University’s school of media.

“His strongest communication is not extemporaneous. He can ramble or stumble into a famous Biden gaffe,” said Sesno in a recent interview. “But to this point, he and his team have been very disciplined with the message of the day and in hitting the words of the day.”

Haunted by mass violence, Colorado confronts painful history

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI for the Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Dawn Reinfeld moved to Colorado 30 years ago to attend college in the bucolic town of Boulder. Enchanted by the state’s wide-open spaces, she stayed.

But, in the ensuing decades, dark events have clouded her view of her adopted home. The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. The 2012 massacre at the Aurora movie theater. On Wednesday, Reinfeld was reeling from the latest mass shooting even closer to home, after authorities say a 21-year-old gunned down shoppers at a local grocery store.

A solemn group of King Soopers employees, left, some from the Boulder store and some from the same district, brought large displays of flowers for each of the victims of a mass shooting at a Boulder Kings Soopers store on Monday. Each display had a card with condolences for the victims’ families and signed by their King Sooper family. The group brought their flowers to a fence around the King Soopers where a makeshift memorial has been made for the victims of a mass shooting, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

“I could see at some point leaving because of all this,” said Reinfeld, a gun control activist. “It’s an exhausting way to live.”

Colorado has long been defined by its jagged mountains and an outdoor lifestyle that lure transplants from around the country. But it’s also been haunted by shootings that have helped define the nation’s decades-long struggle with mass violence. The day after the latest massacre, many in the state were wrestling with that history — wondering why the place they live seems to have become a magnet for such attacks. Why here — again?

“People now say, ‘gee, what is it about Colorado?’” said Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine High School in 1999.

Mauser, now a gun control advocate, was fielding phone calls in the wake of the new attack — among them was a panicked call from a friend whose daughter was shopping in the supermarket and just escaped the shooting. Again, the violence felt so close.

“It just effects so many people. It’s become pervasive,” he said.

Colorado isn’t the state with the most mass shootings — it ranks eighth in the nation, in the same tier as far larger states like California and Florida, according to Jillian Peterson, a criminology professor at Hamline University in Minnesota.

But it is indelibly associated with some of the most high-profile shootings. The massacre at Columbine High School is now viewed as the bloody beginning of a modern era of mass violence. The Aurora shooting brought that terror from schools to a movie theater.

And there are others with less national prominence. In 2006, a gunman killed a 16-year-old girl after storming a high school in the mountain town of Bailey. The next year, a gunman killed four people in two separate attacks on evangelical Christian churches in suburban Denver and Colorado Springs. Three people died during a 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. In 2017, three people were killed at a Walmart by a shooter whose motives were never known. In 2019, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo was killed fending off an armed attack by two classmates at a suburban Denver high school.

The search for answers leaves no easy explanations. Despite its Western image, Colorado has a fairly typical rate of gun ownership for the country, and its populated landscape has more shopping centers than shooting ranges. It’s close to the middle of the pack in terms of its rate of all types of gun violence — 21st in the country, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Peterson, who has written about mass shootings as a viral phenomenon where one gunman is inspired by coverage of other attacks, says the Columbine attack may be one reason Colorado has suffered so much. Two student gunmen killed 13 and “created the script” that many other mass shooters seek to emulate. The attackers died in the massacre but landed on the cover of Time Magazine and were memorialized in movies and books.

“Columbine was the real turning point in this country, so it makes sense that, in Columbine’s backyard, you’d see more of them,” Peterson said.

The attack was nearly a generation ago — the man police named Tuesday as the gunman in the Boulder massacre, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was born three days before the Columbine shooting.

Like many young Coloradans, Esteban Luevano, 19, only learned about Columbine in school, as a tragedy that occurred before he was born. But its long shadow terrified him as a child who wondered whether gunmen could storm his school, too.

Then, when Luevano was 11, another gunman opened fire at a movie theater near his house in Aurora, east of Denver and on the opposite side of the metro area from Columbine’s leafy suburbs. Twelve people were killed and 70 wounded.

The theater was remodeled after the attack. It sat empty on Tuesday, shuttered during the pandemic, as snow began to swirl and Luevano bundled up to head into a mall across the street. He was still reeling from the idea that the latest Colorado community to join the grim brotherhood was the tony, college town of Boulder.

“It’s pretty fancy, so it kind of shocked me that someone would shoot out there,” Luevano said.

Colorado has taken some action to restrict access to guns.

After each of Colorado’s biggest massacres, the local gun control movement has gained heartbroken new recruits. Survivors of Columbine and family of the victims there helped push a ballot measure that required background checks for guns purchased at gun shows. After the Aurora attack, the state’s newly Democratic Legislature passed mandatory background checks for all purchases and a 15-round limit for magazines.

Those measures led to the recall of two state senators, but the laws endured. After the 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida, the Colorado Legislature passed laws allowing for the confiscation of guns from people engaged in threatening behavior. There has been rebellion from some rural sheriffs, but no recalls now.

Three years ago, the city of Boulder went further and banned assault weapons. A court blocked the measure just 10 days before Monday’s rampage.

Gun control activists say one place to observe the impact of mass shootings is in the state’s politics. The Republican congressman who represented Aurora was replaced in 2018 by Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a gun control proponent. In November, the Democratic governor who signed the post-Aurora gun control measures, John Hickenlooper, won a U.S. Senate seat from Colorado’s last major statewide elected Republican.

Still, the appetite for gun rights supporters has not dissipated completely. Coloradans last year also elected Lauren Boebert, a Republican from a rural district who said she wanted to carry a firearm on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Democrat Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed during the Aurora shooting, was elected to a previously-Republican state house district in 2018. On Monday afternoon, he was out with a friend and didn’t hear about the latest attack until he came home.

When he did, he turned on the television to watch, something he described as a “pause” to take in all the pain and life stories of the victims.

“It’s not that we’re numb to this, it’s that we have a lot of practice,” Sullivan said in an interview.

Sullivan argued that Colorado doesn’t have an unusually high number of mass shootings. It’s just that the relatively wealthy state’s backdrop makes the attacks more sensational. “The ones that are happening here in Colorado are happening in a little more affluent areas,” Sullivan said. “It’s happening in other places, too, we just can’t get people to report on that.”

Not all touched by the state’s history of massacres have become gun control backers. Brian Rohrbough, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine, said he gets frustrated every time political activists pick up the issue after massacres. Instead, the solution is moral education, he argues.

“We’re reaping what we’ve sown because we’re afraid, as a state, as a country, to call evil evil,” Rohrbough said.

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This story has been corrected to state that the Aurora theater was remodeled after the attack, not torn down and rebuilt.

Massive cargo ship becomes wedged, blocks Egypt’s Suez Canal

By JON GAMBRELL and SAMY MAGDY for the Associated Press

ISMAILIA, Egypt (AP) — A skyscraper-sized container ship has become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic in the vital waterway, officials said Wednesday, threatening to disrupt a global shipping system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

CORRECTS NAME OF SHIP TO EVER GIVEN, NOT EVER GREEN – In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority, a boat navigates in front of a cargo ship, Ever Given, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, after it become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic in the vital waterway. An Egyptian official warned Wednesday it could take at least two days to clear the ship. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Images showed the ship’s bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall — an extraordinary event that experts said they had never heard of happening before in the canal’s 150-year history.

Tugboats strained Wednesday to try to nudge the obstruction out of the way as ships hoping to enter the waterway began lining up in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. But it remained unclear when the route, through which around 10% of world trade flows and which is particularly crucial for the transport of oil, would reopen. One official warned it could take at least two days. In the meantime, there were concerns that idling ships could become targets for attacks.

“The Suez Canal will not spare any efforts to ensure the restoration of navigation and to serve the movement of global trade,” vowed Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given, said all 20 members of the crew were safe and that there had been “no reports of injuries or pollution.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the ship to become wedged on Tuesday morning. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, said the ship had experienced a blackout without elaborating.

Bernhard Schulte, however, denied the ship ever lost power.

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea but none of its containers had sunk.

An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind. Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kph (30 mph).

However, it remained unclear how winds of that speed alone would have been able to push a fully laden vessel weighing some 220,000 tons.

Tuesday marked the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years. In 2019, the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe river in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.

A pilot from Egypt’s canal authority typically boards a ship to guide it through the waterway, though the ship’s captain retains ultimate authority over the vessel, said Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv. The vessel entered the canal some 45 minutes before it became stuck, moving at 12.8 knots (about 24 kph, 15 mph) just before the crash, he said.

An image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship appeared to show the Ever Given wedged across the canal as shown in satellite images and data. A backhoe appeared to be digging into the sand bank under its bow in an effort to free it.

The Egyptian official said tugboats hoped to refloat the ship and that the operation would take at least two days. The ship ran aground some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southernly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that’s a single lane.

That could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, warned Salvatore R. Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and associate professor of history at North Carolina’s Campbell University.

“Every day, 50 vessels on average go through that canal, so the closing of the canal means no vessels are transiting north and south,” Mercogliano told the AP. “Every day the canal is closed … container ships and tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and goods are not being exported from Europe to the Far East.”

Already, some 30 vessels waited at Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake midway on the canal, while some 40 idled in the Mediterranean near Port Said and another 30 at Suez in the Red Sea, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies. That included seven vessels carrying some 5 million barrels of crude oil, Refinitiv said.

In addition to the economic implications, security experts warned that idling ships in the Red Sea could be targets after a series of attacks against shipping in the Mideast amid tensions between Iran and the U.S.

“All vessels should consider adopting a heightened posture of alertness if forced to remain static within the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden,” warned private marine intelligence firm Dryad Global.

The closure also could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Mideast. The price of international benchmark Brent crude jumped nearly 2.9% to $62.52 a barrel Wednesday.

The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters (a quarter mile) and a width of 59 meters (193 feet), is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time. It previously had been at ports in China before heading toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners. In 2015, the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the canal.

The stranding Tuesday marks just the latest to affect mariners amid the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands have been stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, adding to the pressure on tired sailors, Mercogliano said.

“It’s because of the breakneck pace of global shipping right now and shipping is on a very tight schedule,” he said. “Add to it that mariners have not been able to get on and off vessels because of COVID restrictions.”

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Taijing Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Isabel DeBre in Dubai and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

US outlook improving as vaccinations rise and deaths fall

By JULIE WATSON and CARLA K. JOHNSON for the Associated Press

More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture, with 70% of Americans 65 and older receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths dipping below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

FILE – In this March 23, 2021, file photo, Anita Shetty, left, vaccinates Doris Lucas with a Pfizer vaccine in Atlanta. More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture as dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

Also, dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. And the White House said 27 million doses of both the one-shot and two-shot vaccines will be distributed next week, more than three times the number when President Joe Biden took office two months ago.

Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday he isn’t ready to declare the nation has turned the corner on the outbreak.

“We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen,” he said at a White House briefing.

The outlook in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the deteriorating situation in places like Brazil, which reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time Tuesday, and across Europe, where another wave of infections is leading to new lockdowns and where the vaccine rollout on the continent has been slowed by production delays and questions about the safety and effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s shot.

At the same time, public health experts in the U.S. are warning at every opportunity that relaxing social distancing and other measures could easily lead to another surge.

Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, sees red flags in states lifting mask mandates, air travel roaring back and spring break crowds partying out of control in Florida.

“We’re getting closer to the exit ramp,” Topol said. “All we’re doing by having reopenings is jeopardizing our shot to get, finally, for the first time in the American pandemic, containment of the virus.”

Across the country are unmistakable signs of progress.

More than 43% of Americans 65 and older — the most vulnerable age group, accounting for an outsize share of the nation’s more than 540,000 coronavirus deaths — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Vaccinations overall have ramped up to about 2.5 million shots per day.

Deaths per day in the U.S. from COVID-19 have dropped to an average of 940, down from an all-time high of over 3,400 in mid-January.

Minnesota health officials on Monday reported no new deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in nearly a year. And in New Orleans, the Touro Infirmary hospital was not treating a single case for the first time since March 2020.

“These vaccines work. We’re seeing it in the data,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week.

Nationwide, new cases and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have plummeted over the past two months, though U.S. health officials expressed concern that the two trends seemed to stall in the past couple of weeks. New cases are running at more than 53,000 a day on average, down from a peak of a quarter-million in early January.

Fauci said new cases remain stubbornly high and uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID-19 wave of last summer.

On the plus side, Fauci underscored recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. Also, the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19 has dropped significantly.

Biden has pushed for states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May 1. A least a half-dozen states, including Texas, Arizona and Georgia, are opening up vaccinations to everyone over 16. At least 20 other states have pledged to do so in the next few weeks.

Microsoft, which employs more than 50,000 people at its global headquarters in suburban Seattle, has said it will start bringing back workers on March 29 and reopen installations that have been closed for nearly a year.

New York City’s 80,000 municipal employees, who have been working remotely during the pandemic, will return to their offices starting May 3.

Experts see many reasons for worry.

The number of daily travelers at U.S. airports has consistently topped 1 million over the past week and a half amid spring break at many colleges.

Also, states such as Michigan and Florida are seeing rising cases. And the favorable downward trends in some of the most populous states are concealing an increase in case numbers in some smaller ones, said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

He said the more contagious variant that originated in Britain has now been identified in nearly every state.

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AP journalists Terry Tang and Suman Naishadham contributed from Phoenix.

The Latest: Macron pushing for mass vaccinations in Paris

By The Associated Press

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron is changing strategies and pushing for mass vaccinations with coronavirus infections on the rise in northern France and the Paris region.

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to a man after he received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination center of Valenciennes, northern France, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. The French government has backed off from ordering a tough lockdown for Paris and several other regions despite an increasingly alarming situation at hospitals with a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients. (Yoan Valat/Pool Photo via AP)

“The heart of the battle, in the coming weeks and months, will be the vaccination,” Macron said Tuesday in announcing lowering the age group of those eligible for shots from 75 to 70 years starting this weekend.

In the Paris region, the rate of infection in people ages 20 to 50 is above 800 for 100,000 residents.

The Health Ministry says about 200 “mega-centers” will administer as many as one million shots per week. Some could be in place by the end of the month.

“There are no holidays, no weekends. We must vaccinate every day, vaccinate in the evenings, too,” Macron said while visiting a gymnasium converted to a vaccine center and pharmacy in the northern town of Valenciennes.

France added 344 confirmed deaths in the past day, increasing the total to 92,650 deaths by Monday night.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BRUSSELS — The head of the European Union’s medicines agency says the agency still needs additional data from the makers of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine as it evaluates the shot.

The European Medicines Agency is currently assessing whether to authorize Sputnik V for use in the 27-nation bloc.

Speaking Tuesday to European Parliament lawmakers, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said, “we still have some additional questions that the company needs to supply us with. We have to wait for that data to be submitted” before the vaccine can be evaluated.

Cooke says the agency is planning inspections of “manufacturing and clinical sites in Russia” and cannot give a timeframe for approval of the Russian vaccine.

Cooke also told lawmakers that supplies of the fourth vaccine approved by the agency, made by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen facility in the Netherlands, “are not expected to be available until sometime in April.”

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NEW DELHI, India — India will start vaccinating everyone over age 45 starting April 1, with new infections on the rise the past few weeks.

Federal information minister Prakash Javadekar made the announcement on Tuesday, when more than 40,000 new cases were detected in the past 24 hours. Most infections are in Maharashtra state in India’s western coast. But cases have spiked in other states like Punjab, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

So far, India’s vaccination had focused on the elderly or those over 45 with ailments such as heart disease or diabetes. The vaccine is being offered for free at government hospitals and sold at a fixed price of 250 rupees or $3.45 per shot at private hospitals.

India has given the green signal for the use of two vaccines — the AstraZeneca vaccine made locally by Serum Institute, and another by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. The minister says India had sufficient supplies of vaccines.

Javadekar added the interval between the two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, being made in India by Serum Institute, would be increased to up to eight weeks, compared to 4-6 weeks advised earlier.

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TARRYTOWN, New York — A large new study adds evidence that quick use of a drug with antibodies to fight COVID-19 can help prevent serious illness.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals says tests in more than 4,000 recently diagnosed patients found its two-antibody combo drug cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 70%. All in the study were outpatients and at risk of developing serious illness because of age or other health conditions such as obesity or high blood pressure. The drug also cut the median recovery time from 14 days to 10.

The drug’s benefits were similar at half of the dose currently allowed in the United States under emergency use provisions. The company says it would ask regulators to allow the lower dose, too.

The results haven’t been published or reviewed by independent scientists yet. The drug is given once, through an IV, and the company also is testing it in shot form, which would make it easier to use.

Previously, Eli Lilly announced that its two-antibody treatment also reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in similar patients.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that a surge of coronavirus cases in Europe could foreshadow a similar surge in the United States.

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, is urging Americans to remain cautious while the nation races to vaccinate its citizens.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fauci says he is “optimistic” of the vaccines’ effectiveness and expressed hope that AstraZeneca’s vaccine could join the arsenal of inoculations.

He deemed it an “unforced error” that the company may have used outdated data, perhaps providing an incomplete view of its effectiveness. But he says Americans should take comfort knowing the FDA would conduct an independent review before it was approved for use in the United States.

AstraZeneca reported Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection among adults of all ages in a long-anticipated U.S. study, a finding that some experts hoped would help rebuild public confidence in the shot around the world and move it a step closer to clearance in the U.S.

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BRUSSELS — A leading European Union official has lashed out at the AstraZeneca vaccine company for its massive shortfall in producing doses for the 27-nation bloc, and threatened that any shots produced by them in the EU could be forced to stay there.

Sandra Galina, the chief of the European Commission’s health division, told legislators on Tuesday that while vaccine producers like Pfizer and Moderna have largely met their commitments “the problem has been AstraZeneca. So it’s one contract which we have a serious problem.”

The European Union has been criticized at home and abroad for its slow rollout of its vaccine drive to the citizens, standing at about a third of jabs given to their citizens compared to nations like the United States and United Kingdom.

Galina says the overwhelming responsibility lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was supposed to be the workforce of the drive, because it is cheaper and easier to transport and was supposed to delivered in huge amounts in the first half of the year.

“We are not even receiving a quarter of such deliveries as regards this issue,” Galina said, adding AstraZeneca could expect measures from the EU. “We intend, of course, to take action because, you know, this is the issue that cannot be left unattended.”

The EU already closed an advance purchasing agreement with the Anglo-Swedish company in August last year for up to 400 million doses.

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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman is warning that the government will forcibly close Roman Catholic churches in the capital if priests proceed with a plan to hold masses. That plan is in defiance of new restrictions against public meetings, including religious gatherings, to ease an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday that such exercise of the state’s police powers would not violate the constitutional principle on the separation of church and state and religious freedom, amid the pandemic in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.

“In the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed and I hope it will not come to that,” Roque said in response to a question during a televised news conference. “We won’t achieve anything … if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church.”

The administrator of the dominant Roman Catholic church in Manila and nearby suburbs said in a pastoral instruction that no processions and motorcades and other street activities would be held during the Lenten period and Easter but added religious worship would be organized inside churches starting Wednesday for a limited number of churchgoers.

’It is sad that we will again be physically limited during the holiest days of the year for us,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

The Philippines has reported more than 677,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with nearly 13,000 deaths, the highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

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WASHINGTON — Results from a U.S. trial of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine may have used “outdated information,” U.S. federal health officials say.

The Data and Safety Monitoring Board said in a statement early Tuesday that it was concerned that AstraZeneca may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.

AstraZeneca reported Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection among adults of all ages in a long-anticipated U.S. study, a finding that could help rebuild public confidence in the shot around the world and move it a step closer to clearance in the U.S.

In the study of 30,000 people, the vaccine was 79% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19 — including in older adults. There were no severe illnesses or hospitalizations among vaccinated volunteers, compared with five such cases in participants who received dummy shots — a small number, but consistent with findings from Britain and other countries that the vaccine protects against the worst of the disease.

AstraZeneca also said the study’s independent safety monitors found no serious side effects, including no increased risk of rare blood clots like those identified in Europe, a scare that led numerous countries to briefly suspend vaccinations last week.

The company aims to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, and the government’s outside advisers will publicly debate the evidence before the agency makes a decision.

Authorization and guidelines for use of the vaccine in the United States will be determined by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after thorough review of the data by independent advisory committees.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Moon Jae-in has received his first shot of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as he plans to attend June’s Group of Seven meetings in Britain.

Moon on Tuesday received his shot at a public health office in downtown Seoul along with his wife and other presidential officials who plan to accompany him during the June 11-13 meetings.

Moon’s office said he was feeling “comfortable” after receiving the shot and complimented the skills of a nurse who he said injected him without causing pain.

The office said Moon will likely receive his second dose sometime around mid-May.

South Korea launched its mass immunization program in February and plans to deliver the first doses to 12 million people through the first half of the year, including elders, frontline health workers and people in long-term care settings.

Officials aim to vaccinate more than 70% of the country’s 51 million population by November, which they hope would meaningfully slow the virus and reduce risks of economic and social activity.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister on Tuesday sought more Chinese vaccines to fight the pandemic as the nation reported 72 deaths from COVID-19 and 3,270 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the request during a telephone call to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

According to a foreign ministry statement, Qureshi thanked Chinese leadership for wishing Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan a speedy recovery from COVID-19. Khan tested positive over the weekend.

Qureshi also thanked Beijing for promising 1.5 million doses of Chinese vaccines for Pakistan, saying it had been pivotal to protecting lives. So far, Pakistan has received 1 million of those doses.

The statement quoted Yi as reassuring Pakistan that “China will continue to firmly support Pakistan in its fight against the pandemic.”

Pakistan has reported 633,741 cases among 13,935 deaths from coronavirus since last year.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The number of Floridians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine expanded on Monday as the state allowed anybody age 50 and up to get the shot.

The county that is home to the state’s biggest theme parks set the bar even lower by allowing anyone age 40 and up to get an injection.

With the loosening of the qualifications, more than a third of Floridians were now eligible solely based on age.

Starting Monday, Orange County expanded the age eligibility a decade lower than the statewide requirement. Reservations were required for the drive-thru site at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, and 7,000 appointments were filled within 13 minutes.

In expanding the eligibility, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said last week there has been decreasing demand at the site. He said he had notified the state and felt he had the authority to expand eligibility in the county.

DeSantis said he had concerns about Orange County “choosing to prioritize a healthy 40-year-old” over older residents. “It’s not authorized,” said DeSantis.

But Demings said his goal was to get as many people in Orange County vaccinated. “This is about the safety of the people in this community.”

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Resident, firefighter missing after fatal nursing home fire

For the Associated Press

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. (AP) — A fire swept through a suburban New York assisted living home and caused a partial collapse early Tuesday, killing one resident and leaving another resident and a firefighter missing, officials said. Two other firefighters and multiple other residents were sent to hospitals.

Firefighters work on extinguishing hotspots from a fire that burned down the Evergreen Court Home for Adults, Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Spring Valley, N.Y. The fire swept through the suburban New York assisted living home and caused a partial collapse early Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Flames gutted the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in the Rockland County community of Spring Valley, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of New York City. It had an estimated 100 to 125 residents, but authorities were working to determine the exact number, Rockland County Fire coordinator Chris Kear said.

One resident died after being taken to a hospital, Kear said. The person’s name was not immediately released.

“This was a devastating loss,” Kear said at a news briefing.

Rescuers searched through rubble for a firefighter who issued a mayday call while trying to rescue a resident, also still missing, from the third floor, Kear said. Other firefighters rushed to try to help their colleague, but the flames were too intense.

“The extent of the fire, the volume of fire, the conditions, were just too unbearable where firefighters went in it, and they just could not locate the firefighter, and they had to back out,” he said at a later news conference.

Two other firefighters were taken to hospitals. One was released, while the other was expected to stay overnight for treatment for smoke inhalation, Kear said.

Officials believe about 20 residents were taken to hospitals, some with serious injuries, Kear said.

Other residents were taken by bus to another facility, state Trooper Steven Nevel said.

U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones said he was horrified to learn of the fire in his hometown of Spring Valley.

“I am deeply saddened by the death of a resident of the Evergreen facility, and I am praying that the firefighter who bravely risked his life to save dozens of individuals trapped inside will be found safe and alive,” the first-term Democrat said in a statement.

About 125 firefighters from many agencies worked to get the fire under control. Investigators worked to determine the cause of the fire.

Because of the extensive damage, “It’s going to take quite a while to get to the root cause,” Kear said.

At one point, video showed the second floor collapsing as the fire burned. Kear said a whole portion of the building ultimately fell down.

Eruption of Iceland volcano easing, not affecting flights

By EGILL BJARNASON for the Associated Press

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — The eruption of a long-dormant volcano that sent streams of lava flowing across a small valley in southwestern Iceland is easing and shouldn’t interfere with air travel, the Icelandic Meteorological Office said Saturday.

This photo provided by the Icelandic Met Office shows an eruption, center right, on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland on Friday, March 19, 2021. The long dormant volcano flared to life Friday night, spilling lava down two sides in that area’s first volcanic eruption in nearly 800 years. (Icelandic Met Office via AP)

The fissure eruption began at around 8:45 p.m. Friday in the Geldinga Valley, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, the Met Office said. The eruption is “minor” and there were no signs of ash or dust that could disrupt aviation, the agency said.

“The more we see, the smaller this eruption gets,” geophysicist Pall Einarsson told The Associated Press on Saturday after monitoring the volcano throughout the night.

This southwestern corner of Iceland is the most heavily populated part of the country. The Department of Emergency Management said it doesn’t anticipate evacuations, unless levels of volcanic gases rise significantly.

Keflavik Airport, Iceland’s international air traffic hub, said flights have remained on schedule since the eruption began.

“There is no indication of production of ash and tephra, and there is no imminent hazard for aviation,” the Met Office said on its website.

In 2010, an eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland sent clouds of ash and dust into the atmosphere, interrupting air travel between Europe and North America because of concerns the material could damage jet engines. More than 100,000 flights were grounded, stranding millions of passengers.

The Geldinga Valley eruption is the first on the Reykjanes Peninsula in almost 800 years.

The area began rumbling with increased seismic activity 15 months ago, and the tremors increased dramatically last month.

Over the past three weeks, the area has been rattled by about 50,000 small earthquakes, dozens of them magnitude 4 or stronger, the Met Office said.

Iceland, located above a volcanic hotspot in the North Atlantic, averages one eruption every four to five years. The last one was at Holuhraun in 2014, when a fissure eruption spread lava the size of Manhattan over the interior highland region.

Scientists flew over the Geldinga Valley eruption on Saturday morning and estimated the eruptive fissure was about 500 meters long (1,640 feet.) The two streams of lava were about 2.5 kilometers from the nearest road.

Solny Palsdottir’s house is the closest to the site of the eruption, just four kilometers (2.5 miles) away in the coastal town of Grindavik. She and her husband were watching TV on Friday night when her teenage son pointed out a red glow in the distance.

“Today, I see a white-blue cloud of steam coming from the mountains,” Palsdottir, 50, told The Associated Press. “Not something I expected to have in my backyard.”

“I am just relieved the earthquakes are over,” she added.

Greece orders private doctors to join COVID-19 battle

From the Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s health minister is requisitioning the services of private sector doctors from certain specialties in the wider Athens region to help fight a renewed surge in coronavirus infections that is straining hospitals to their limits.

The first visitors wearing face masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus, walk atop of Acropolis hill, as the Parthenon temple is seen in the background in Athens, Monday, March 22, 2021. Greece’s government reopened the Acropolis and other ancient sites nationwide after four months as it prepares to restart the tourism season in mid-May. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In an announcement released Monday, Vassilis Kikilias said that despite repeated appeals for private doctors to volunteer to help in the public sector, very few came forward. Therefore, the minister said, he was ordering specialists in pathology, pneumonology and general medicine to help.

Kikilias had said Friday he would requisition private sector doctors unless at least 200 volunteered within 48 hours. Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said Monday that only 61 doctors had stepped forward voluntarily.

“It was the last measure, if you will, in the context of the emergency plan prepared by the Health Ministry, and it was decided that it was now necessary to mobilize private doctors as part of this great struggle, this national effort, after all the opportunities for voluntary participation were exhausted,” Peloni said.

The requisition order is for one month for 206 doctors, health authorities said.

Greece has been experiencing a renewed surge of COVID-19 despite lockdown-related measures being in force since early November, with dozens of daily deaths recorded, as well as increasing numbers of patients hospitalized in intensive care units. About 500 people are hospitalized each day across the country with COVID-19, health authorities say, with 200 of them being in the wider Athens region.

On Monday, Greece reported 1,707 new coronavirus infections and 69 more deaths, bringing the total confirmed infections in the country of around 10.5 million people to just under 240,000 and the death toll to 7,531.

Despite the rising numbers, authorities have announced a slight relaxation of lockdown measures, with hairdressers, nail salons and open-air archaeological sites reopening as of Monday. Amateur fishing, which had also been banned, is also being allowed for those living in coastal areas, as access to the sea is allowed only on foot or bicycle.

Authorities said Monday that close to 1.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in the country, with nearly 1 million people receiving at least one jab.

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Cops’ posts to private Facebook group show hostility, hate

By CLAUDIA LAUER and THALIA BEATY for the Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — In a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom, many current and retired officers spent the year criticizing chiefs who took a knee or officers who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters, whom they called “terrorists” or “thugs.” They made transphobic posts and bullied members who supported anti-police brutality protesters or Joe Biden in a forum billed as a place officers can “decompress, rant, share ideas.”

Mount Pleasant Township Police Chief Lou McQuillan answers the door at the municipal building in Hickory, Pa., on Monday, March 15, 2021. McQuillan, who recently announced he is running for a vacant magisterial district judge post, was listed as one of four administrators of a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom. Many current and retired officers who are in the group spent the year criticizing chiefs that took a knee or officers who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters, who they called “terrorists,” or “thugs.” (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Many of the deluge of daily posts were jokes about the hardships of being officers, memorials to deceased colleagues or conversations about training and equipment. But over the group’s almost four-year existence, a few dozen members became more vocal with posts that shifted toward pro-Donald Trump memes and harsh criticism of anyone perceived to support so-called “demoncrats,” Black Lives Matter or coronavirus safety measures.ADVERTISEMENT

In June, Tim Huschak, a corporal at the Borough of Lincoln Police Department, posted a screenshot of an Allegheny County 911 dispatcher’s Facebook page indicating that the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” used by law enforcement supporters is not equivalent to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because policing is a choice, not a fact of birth. He wrote: “Many negative posts on police. And we should trust her with our lives???”

Some angry members rallied quickly and organized phone calls to her supervisor demanding she be fired.

“Multiple officers should call and report it. Remember NO JUSTICE NO PEACE LOL,” West Mifflin Borough Police Department officer Tommy Trieu responded under his Facebook name, Tommy Bear.

Trieu was one of two West Mifflin officers seen in a video last year restraining a 15-year-old Black girl after responding to a call about a fight on a school bus. Activists called for firing the officers, but borough officials said the recording started after a student hit an officer and that they “did nothing wrong.”

A few members of the group also were bullied or left the page, including an officer who said the Fraternal Order of Police’s Trump endorsement did not represent her and a Black officer who was accused of creating a fake Facebook account to complain about the lack of diversity in local departments.

The Associated Press was able to view posts and comments from the group, which has 2,200 members, including about a dozen current and former police chiefs — from mainly Allegheny County and some surrounding areas stretching into Ohio — and at least one judge and one councilman. After the AP began asking about posts last week, the group appeared to have been deleted or suspended from view.

Contacted by the AP, Lincoln Borough Police Chief Richard Bosco said departmental policy prohibited Huschak from talking to the media. He said the officer is known for his service to the community and wasn’t aware that others had posted insults under his post or that things had “gotten out of hand.”

“He understood the concerns and he deleted the post,” Bosco said. “There is and there needs to be a higher professional standard for police, especially when it comes to social media.”

Trieu defended his comment, telling the AP that he was merely advising other officers in the group that, just like community members can complain about officers, they could file a grievance with a dispatcher’s supervisor if they feared for their safety.

Concerns about explicit bias on officers’ social media accounts were renewed in the last year after a summer of protests demanding an end to police brutality and racial injustice in policing and pro-Trump protests in January that led to a violent siege on the Capitol.

The private Facebook page showed embattled officers hostile to criticism and doubling down on policing as it currently exists, with many posts and comments possibly violating some department social media policies that prohibit disparaging comments about race or that express bias or harass others.

Joe Hoffman, a West Mifflin Borough Police officer, posted a criticism of Webster, Mass., Police Chief Michael Shaw, who lay on his stomach on the steps of his station for about eight minutes — a reference to George Floyd being held on the ground when he was killed by Minneapolis police.

“If you are a law enforcement officer and you kneel or lie on the ground so easily over the false narrative of police brutality, you will one day be executed on your knees or your stomach without a fight by the same criminals that you are currently pandering to,” he wrote, calling the organization “Black Lies Matter.”

Hoffman did not return requests for comment left with the police department or a phone number listed in his name.

In another post, a now-retired Pittsburgh police officer talked about being stuck in traffic for hours in June 2018 after protesters commandeered a highway days after a former East Pittsburgh police officer shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose as he ran from a traffic stop. After the officer mentioned having his service weapon in the trunk, other officers said he shouldn’t hesitate to use lethal force because he’d be protecting himself, while others said police should use dogs and water cannons to clear the demonstrators, a reference to police tactics during civil rights protests in the ’60s.

During that 2018 protest, two people were injured when Bell Acres Councilman Gregory Wagner attempted to drive through a crowd near PNC Park. After his arrest, members of the Facebook group posted support for his actions, with one retired Pittsburgh police officer writing that Wagner was merely “trying to get away from a hostile, TERRORISTIC crowd.”

Mount Pleasant Township Police Chief Lou McQuillan, who recently announced he is running for a vacant magisterial district judge post, was listed as one of the Facebook group’s four administrators.

McQuillan posted an article in June 2017 about a civil settlement being reached in the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, remarking on how the amount of the award was determined: “future earnings? lol What about Ofc Wilson? What about his lost earnings? Joke.” Several officers replied that Brown’s earnings would have derived from crimes or welfare checks, with one posting the theme song from “The Jeffersons.”

McQuillan declined an interview request from the AP, instead sending a statement saying, “Of course, I regret the loss of any life. My comments and posts from four years ago were meant to support law enforcement and police officers everywhere. And I believe in law and order.”

Dozens of group members, many retired or no longer in law enforcement, fueled days of transphobic posts about former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine for her role in statewide social-distancing mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19. Levine, who is transgender, has since been tapped by Biden to be assistant health secretary.

The posts referred to Levine as “he” or “it” and called her a “freak” and other names. “Someone needs to shoot this thing!!” one retired officer wrote.

The group’s rules do not explicitly prohibit racist, sexist or otherwise disparaging content, but do threaten expulsion if members don’t agree to privacy.

According to the group’s introduction, “What goes on in here, STAYS IN HERE. We can have discussions, opinions, thoughts, and even rants, but there is to be NO SHARING outside of this page of anything posted here!”

The Pittsburgh-area officers weren’t alone in posting sometimes hostile and disparaging content to social media. In 2019, the Plain View Project released a database of similar posts from officers in eight departments around the country.

The project, founded by a group of Philadelphia attorneys, examined the Facebook accounts of 2,900 active and 600 retired officers, finding thousands of posts that were racist, sexist, advocated for police brutality or were similarly problematic. The group made the database public, saying the posts eroded the public’s trust.

“In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing — among other topics — inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices,” the project’s founders wrote.

Pittsburgh was not part of the project, but city officials have received a handful of complaints about social media posts by officers, at least two of which were perceived as racist.(Andrew Russell/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via AP, File)

Amid the 2018 protests over the shooting of Antwon Rose, Officer Brian M. Martin appeared to express glee at the death of Black Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo, writing: “I’m still celebrating.” Martin was reassigned from his job as an undercover detective after footage showed him beating members of a motorcycle club in a bar brawl just months after the Facebook post. He later pleaded no contest to a DUI after hitting a bicyclist and leaving the scene of the accident while off-duty, and was placed on leave.

Last August, a resident lodged a complaint against Sgt. George Kristoff, whose public Facebook page contained disparaging memes about Black people and police brutality protesters.

Pittsburgh’s Office of Municipal Investigations, which investigates complaints against the police and other city employees, reviewed both cases after complaints from the public, but city public safety spokesman Chris Togneri said he could not discuss the outcome or comment on whether the men were still employed.

Following the complaint against Kristoff, the department revised its social media policy to emphasize that officers may face discipline for online comments, especially those undermining public trust in the force. Some of the smaller police departments around Allegheny County contacted by the AP either did not have social media policies or had policies that were less specific about offenses. Others, like Lincoln Borough, were working on implementing new policies.

Pittsburgh’s new policy explicitly states officers may face disciplinary action for sharing “any content involving discourteous or disrespectful remarks … pertaining to issues of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, and/or disability.” It also says officers are forbidden from “advocating harassment or violence.”

“I think that’s really important that the police department has revised its policies to reflect the type of policing they want in their community,” said Elizabeth Pittenger, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board.

Kyna James, a community organizer at the Alliance for Police Accountability in Pittsburgh, said activists calling for police reforms just want officers to be held to the same accountability that citizens are, adding that the existence of the Facebook group and the posts were not surprising.

“You know, that doesn’t make it less upsetting,” James said. “It’s 2021, and it’s a shame that we are still here and we are still dealing with this.”

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Beaty reported from New York .

Shooting victim’s husband says police detained him for hours

By KATE BRUMBACK for the Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — A man who survived the shooting that killed his wife at an Atlanta-area massage business last week said police detained him in handcuffs for four hours after the attack.

Mario Gonzalez said he was held in a patrol car outside the spa. The revelation, in an interview with Mundo Hispanico, a Spanish-language news website, follows other criticism of Cherokee County officials investigating the March 16 attack, which killed four people. Four others were killed about an hour later at two spas in Atlanta.